Naperville aims to become restaurant 'satellite' to Chicago

With new restaurants changing the face of Naperville, the goal is to turn the western suburb into a satellite of Chicago when it comes to fine dining and entertainment, city officials said.

"Naperville is a dynamite place for restaurants to establish themselves, bringing people from the entire western (suburban area) that may not want to drive to Chicago for a great meal," said Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance.

The satellite idea was first proposed by Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico in his state of the city address earlier this year. But where he was thinking professional job opportunities, Wood has her eye on how residents spend their time after they get home.

The restaurant industry seems to have taken notice. Five new restaurants have opened downtown in recent months, with more on the way later this year, Wood said.

Another five have opened outside of downtown, with more also expected in the fall, according to Dine Naperville.

"Naperville has always been one of the area's economic hubs," said Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association. "The demographic shows a keen interest in exploring new cuisines and concepts, making the area an ideal location for new restaurants and existing brand expansion."

Naperville boasts a population of 150,000, many of whom are relatively affluent and dine out frequently, said Christine Jeffries with Dine Naperville and Naperville Development Partnership. Beyond that, the city employs a large number of professional workers who like to go out for lunch downtown and along the Interstate 88 corridor.

The number of downtown restaurants has stayed relatively steady over the years, but that is changing as new development expands its boundaries, Jeffries said. The under-construction Water Street District, for example, is scheduled to open its first phase this fall and has announced three new restaurants so far.

"Naperville is sort of a dining mecca if you will," Jeffries said. "It's part of the fabric of the community."

Among the newcomers to downtown this fall is Everdine's Grilled Cheese Co. Husband-and-wife team Brian and Kelly Herkert are opening the restaurant at 24 W. Jefferson St. in a building that Brian's father bought 30 years ago. The Naperville natives — he went to Naperville North, she to Naperville Central — look forward to bringing a mom-and-pop restaurant back to downtown, which has filled with chain shops in recent years.

"We want to build relationships," Kelly Herkert said. "We want people to come in not just because they want a good grilled cheese, but because they want to see us."

On Route 59 near 95th Street, Jimmy Sweis said he picked Naperville to open Illinois' first Wayback Burgers franchise after catching a movie at the nearby AMC theater. He picked Naperville because he has family and friends here and enjoys the city.

"There's shopping, there's dining, there's lots of kid-friendly shops," Sweis said. "We're a family restaurant."

gbookwalter@tribpub.com

Twitter @GenevieveBook

New restaurants recently opened in Naperville include:

•Empire Burgers & Brews, 48 W. Chicago Ave.

•MOD Pizza, 103 S. Washington St.

•Nando's PERi-PERi, 6 W. Washington St.

•Halsted Deli & Bagel, 206 S. Washington St.

•Delirio Latin Fusion, 5 W. Jackson Ave.

•Kogii Kogii Korean BBQ, 1763 Freedom Commons #101

•Old Town Pour House, 1703 Freedom Drive

•Louie's Pizza Gyro Beef, 1659 N. Route 59

•Wayback Burgers, 2775 Showplace Drive

•Fire it up Taco Fusion Grill, relocated to 1523 N. Aurora Road

Restaurants expected to open later this year include:

•The Craftsman by Two Brothers, 16 W. Jefferson Ave.

•Everdine's Gourmet Sandwich Shop, 24 W. Jefferson Ave.

•Bien Trucha, Water Street District

•Blue Sushi Sake Grill, Water Street District

•Elements Event & Private Dining, Water Street District

Source: Dine Naperville, Downtown Naperville Alliance

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