BUCKTOWN — A Bucktown restaurant is hosting a series of open mic nights and makers markets this summer as it tries to bring in more business — and open an ice cream shop next door.
Le Cafe Station Grill, 1889 N. Winnebago Ave., opened almost a year ago after owners Geovanny Tapia and Monica Chacon moved a few feet south from their original location inside the Western Blue Line Station.
The restaurant focuses on breakfast and lunch, although the owners hope to draw in more dinner customers during the week. Le Cafe offers breakfast burritos, sandwiches and pizzas, as well as coffee drinks, juices and smoothies, among other menu items.
Now, the couple has partnered with Monica Rose, a Bucktown-based piano teacher and musician to help expand their footprint in the neighborhood.
Last year, Rose was injured in a hit-and-run when a driver struck her moped while she was riding down Damen Avenue in Wicker Park. The experience, and the ensuing response from the surrounding community, inspired her to start volunteering her time with Le Cafe, she said.
“When I was injured, I had a lot of time to think. And also, I was just totally blown away by how generous Bucktown was to me. So I really wanted to kind give back in some way,” she said. “And it just so happened that I ran into the cafe once or twice … and connected with Monica [Chacon].”
In March, Rose started hosting open mic nights 6-8 p.m. every other Wednesday at the restaurant.
Each one includes a featured performer, on top of anyone else who wants sign up. Rose said she’s encouraged younger musicians — who may not be able to get into bars and nightclubs — to perform.
“We usually get comics, storytellers, musicians, singer-songwriters; and it’s all ages. We’ve had some like 12-year-olds, 15-year-olds and then all the way up to, you know, 40s and 50s,” she said.
Earlier this month, Rose and Le Cafe also launched what they’re calling Small Business Saturdays, where a few local makers set up shop in the restaurant to sell jewelry, prints and other items.
Rose said it’s another way to support the local community while bringing in more business.
“I really have an interest in bringing people together and really bringing creativity and art and music into the everyday person’s life. I studied art therapy in college, so I’m a big believer in the psychological and emotional benefits of just doing some sort of art or creation,” Rose said.
The Saturday market usually runs 9 a.m.-3 p.m., and it will last through the summer, Rose said.
Le Cafe Station Grill is the latest project for Tapia, who previously worked as a chef in Winnetka and has owned or consulted with restaurants for decades.
“Most of my adult life, I have owned businesses, either a nightclub, a bar, a restaurant, whatever,” he said. “That’s how you succeed; you’ve got to like what you’re doing.”
Tapia’s passion for cooking has persisted despite challenges from cancer. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2019.
Amid chemotherapy and other treatments, Tapia has barely stopped working. He and Chacon opened Le Cafe in July 2021. And when he underwent a stem cell transplant earlier this year, he was back at work almost immediately.
“They told me to stay 100 days in the house, but I lasted a week, I think,” he said, laughing.
Tapia said he feels great and wants to continue to grow his businesses. He’s in talks to buy a pizza place in Streeterville where he’s been a consultant.
At Le Cafe, Tapia frequently updates the restaurant’s menu, and he is planning to introduce a Roman-style pizza option shortly. Chacon said she’d eventually like to use coffee beans from her native Costa Rica.
In the meantime, the couple are expanding even further in Bucktown: They plan to open an ice cream shop next door to the restaurant.
Tapia said they plan to sell paletas, sundaes and street food like elotes. He hopes to open in the next few weeks to capitalize on the summer demand.
Le Cafe Station Grill is open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
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