After an extended walkabout outside the restaurant industry, Glenn Fahlstrom is ready for a comeback. The longtime Chicago restaurateur the namesake behind Lincoln Square’s Glenn’s Diner and Lakeview’s Fahlstrom’s Fresh Fish Market aims to make a triumphant return to the world of hospitality with a new hybrid tavern, oyster bar, and fish market in suburban Evanston.
But talks of any comeback hinge on funding. Fahlstrom has already negotiated the lease with a supportive landlord but is still working to drum up the $1 million he needs to open the business. As of August, he was about a third of the way to his goal.
“So many things are positive about this deal and I’m trying to make it work, but I don’t have the backing of the big restaurant groups like Lettuce [Entertain You Enterprises] and the Boka boys,” he says.
More than three years have passed since the early days of the pandemic in March 2020, when Fahlstrom closed the seafood restaurant and market after half a dozen years on Belmont Avenue. Amid a whirlwind of uncertainty about the severity and duration of COVID-19, Fahlstrom predicted (accurately, it turns out) that the suggested timeframe of two weeks was a pipe dream. He couldn’t put his staff and patrons at risk of infection when so much was unknown. Four months later he announced that the restaurant wouldn’t return.
Despite the intervening years, the wound of the restaurant’s sudden closure hasn’t healed. “Losing Fahlstrom’s when and how I did has been devastating,” he says. “I really want to get back into the market again. I love it so much and I want Fahlstrom’s to be a working name again in seafood.”
The name Fahlstrom’s Fresh Fish Market may very well be bandied about by Chicago area diners once again, as Fahlstrom plans to use it for his new project bound for 1725 Maple Avenue. A casual, 5,478-square-foot counter-service tavern and restaurant with no servers or busboys, it’ll house a bar with 15 to 20 stools and a menu of the 20 best-selling dishes from the original Fahlstrom’s, including shrimp po’boys, steamed mussels in marinara, and subtly spicy seafood gumbo designed to pair well with a frosty beer.
On the retail side, the smoked seafood program (think shrimp, scallops, and whole fish) will also return, and shoppers will be able to pick up pre-packaged meal ingredients, say, a piece of fish with a vegetable and a starch. There are visions of a line of grocery items, like cocktail sauce, Bloody Mary mix, and clam chowder.
Fahlstrom, 70, has nostalgic childhood memories of visiting a neighborhood tavern with his parents every Friday. The experience has spurred him to recreate the cozy, local atmosphere he’s always associated with the weekly ritual. It’s also influenced his vision for the bar — a classic, spacious wood fixture with room to eat and drink — and an all-domestic beer lineup with representatives from various regions of the country.
Evanston, he says, has been crying out for fresh fish and shellfish. With around three decades of experience in seafood restaurants, Fahlstrom feels he’s the best person for the job. In his view, the Maple Avenue space, just four doors down from a 12-screen AMC movie theater and located near both a parking lot and public transport, is particularly remarkable.
Though nearly all the elements are in place for a second iteration of Fahlstrom’s, a key obstacle remains — fundraising. Already facing the headwinds of high interest rates, he says potential investors are often attracted to operators who already have a store up and running, which is something he can’t provide: “I wish I did, but I don’t. But I have a great idea, a great location, great execution, and a seasoned pro doing it. All the signs are there, I’ve just got to try to raise the money.”
Fahlstrom’s Fresh Fish Market, 1725 Maple Avenue in Evanston, Opening date is not yet available.