A storied suburban diner that’s served up comfort food for more than half a century will put down roots in Chicago for the first time: Evanston’s famed Sarkis Cafe is slated to debut a second location next month in Avondale as a carryout and delivery-only operation at 3517 N. Spaulding Avenue. The restaurant is slated to open on December 15, but could launch even earlier, according to owner Marla Cramin.
The cafe’s many fans may be relieved to know that Cramin doesn’t intend to mess with a good thing: they can still count the same selection of original sandwiches, omelets, and other breakfast items, including popular hit the Loretta (bacon, ham, turkey, chorizo, carnitas, or vegetable, melted white cheese, green peppers, tomato, onion, mayo, French bread) and the Disaster (ground beef Armenian sausage, melted white cheese, green peppers, tomato, onion, French bread). There is just one caveat: the Avondale location will accept cards, while the Evanston restaurant remains cash only.
“We literally plan to change absolutely nothing,” she says. “What works in Evanston will certainly work in Chicago... It’s the same recipes, the same people — just in a different spot.”
Cramin, whose late husband bought the restaurant from founder Sarkis Tashjian in 2000, says she’s been hoping to open a city location for some time. Though the pandemic has wreaked havoc on nearly every corner of the hospitality industry, Cramin says her business has remained stable thanks to affordable prices and generations of loyal customers.
“Pickup and delivery lends itself so well to the pandemic with more people at home,” Cramin says. “Making food for yourself at home gets boring — if you can get your fix of Sarkis, why the heck not? It seems like a perfect time to do this.”
Eventually, she’d like to set up a dine-in location in Chicago, but as COVID-19 numbers and regulations fluctuate, she’s busied herself with more immediate projects. Cramin says she’s instead interested in pursuing a third location in suburban Buffalo Grove.
Founded in 1965, Sarkis Cafe became an institution in large part due to its vivacious founder. Tashjian was the son of Armenian Genocide survivors, according to Block Club Chicago, and earned a passionate following over his 35-year tenure planting kisses on the cheeks of regulars and treating every customer as a pal. Cramin says that one-on-one relationship with customers is what she misses most during the pandemic — checking in on personal news like weddings, graduations, and college admissions. Though the dining room is closed due to Illinois’ indoor dining ban, the Evanston restaurant is open for outdoor seating in heated tents, as well as carryout and delivery.
News of the forthcoming spot, first announced on Facebook, has lead to a huge influx of calls and texts from delighted locals. “People are asking, is it really you?” Cramin says, laughing. “Because we’ve had a couple of people imitate, but never replicate!”
Cramin has previously brought two separate lawsuits against her brother, Scott Jaffe, who opened Sarks in the Park in Lincoln Park and Uptown Diner in Highland Park. Both suits, in 2012 and 2015 respectively, claimed the restaurants touted a false affiliation with the original Sarkis Cafe and copied its menu, according to the Tribune. Jaffe ran the original Sarkis for 10 years; Sarks in the Park closed in 2016.
Block Club first reported this story.
Sarkis Cafe, 3517 N. Spaulding Avenue, Scheduled to open December 15 for carryout and delivery.