The team behind suburban Winnetka’s first all-vegan restaurant is planning to soon unveil the first two locations in a chain of casual outposts serving meat-free Buffalo wings, Impossible barbecue burgers, and more.
Elephant & Vine, a counter service-style restaurant from Spirit Elephant owner CD Young, is slated to open this spring at Lincoln Common at 2335 N. Lincoln Avenue and at 719 Church Street in suburban Evanston.
Young hopes these openings will be a launchpad for huge growth with a goal to open at least one more Spirit Elephant, and multiple Elephant & Vine locations nationwide: “We look at it as the beginning of a very large restaurant group,” she says. “We probably want to be international at some point, but definitely national in the coming years — you will see us pop up all over the country.”
Spirit Elephant was a pioneer when it opened in early 2020, bringing a stylish and entirely vegan dining option to the North Shore for the first time. Just months after opening, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Young to switch over to takeout and delivery, along with selling produce boxes and virtual cooking classes. Two years later, she wants to use what she’s learned about her customers to court diners in the city proper.
“Spirit [Elephant] was a wonderful test kitchen and we got a great idea about what folks really love,” she says. “In northern suburbs, it’s not super accessible to the most people. For us, it’s easier to grow something that’s a little smaller and more nimble.”
In Chicago, Young will face more competition. Lincoln Common, near DePaul University’s main campus by Lincoln, Fullerton, and Halsted, sits on the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site and counts tenants including Philz Coffee, Blue Sake Sushi Grill, and Verve Wine Bar.
A finalized menu isn’t yet available for Elephant & Vine, but patrons can expect a tight selection ranging from Impossible burgers and battered “Zero Clucks” chicken sandwiches to wraps, “Cornucopia Harvest” salads, and Buffalo cauli bowls. Unlike Spirit Elephant, which features a bar, Elephant & Vine will have a booze-free list of shakes, smoothies, and lemonade.
Construction continues at both locations, which will feature an industrial-style design often associated with fast-casual restaurants — counter-service spots primarily focused on takeout and delivery, with some dine-in seating. Young hopes the style of dining coupled with sites near major universities will be especially appealing to college students.
Young isn’t the only animal-free restaurateur in the area with major expansion plans. Laricia Chandler, chef and owner of vegan and vegetarian restaurant Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat, has rapidly grown her Hyde Park restaurant into a mini-chain with locations in Old Town and southwest suburban Orland Park. Chandler in early 2021 told Eater that she aims to make her brand into “the vegan In-And-Out Burger” with restaurant around the world.
The ever-growing popularity of vegan dining options indicates that there are plenty of customers to go around. “If you think about where we were as a society even five years ago when it comes to vegan food — kind of ‘weird’ — to today, when it’s dare I say ‘cool,’” says Young. “It’s been a big paradigm shift.”
Elephant & Vine, 2335 N. Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park; 719 Church Street in Evanston; Scheduled to open in Spring 2022.