One of the more recognizable corners in Libertyville is getting a makeover in a project that looks back as well as ahead.
When complete, the exterior of the Picnic Basket restaurant on Milwaukee Avenue fronting the village's signature Cook Park will return to a look reminiscent of its turn of the century roots, with new brick work replacing the synthetic stucco.
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Inside, the business is being expanded into the adjoining storefront to the north, formerly occupied by Cathy's Garden Gate, which appears to be a separate space but actually is part of the same building.
"Rather than leasing out that space to a new tenant, it opened up opportunities for them," said Heather Rowe, economic development coordinator for the village. "The improvement on the outside is a big investment."
The work will provide more elbow room for patrons and accommodate a growing catering business, as well an opportunity to grow the menu beyond the lunch fare of soups, salads and sandwiches.
The work, pegged at about $700,000 by Ahmed Amin, is another evolution in what has become a downtown mainstay at the corner of Cook Avenue.
Amin opened the restaurant 30 years ago and has hung on through times when downtown Libertyville was not the center of activity -- and center for dining establishments -- it has become.
"The place is very tiny, it's very tight," he said. Mothers with strollers find it hard to navigate and some customers have opted to come before or after the lunch rush. "I'm trying to address those issues," with the expansion.
The two-story brick structure was built more than a century ago. An 1897 historical description shows the building was occupied by the "Lake County Bank", which was established in 1892. An old vault is in the basement but it did not contain any treasure.
Amin said there were two subsequent additions. Perhaps the best known occupant was Titus Brothers Electrical Contractors, which operated at that spot for more than 50 years. A bakery followed for a short time before Amin opened the Picnic Basket.
There are practical reasons for the expansion as well, Amin said. The work is being coordinated with the ongoing renovation of the village-owned parking lot at the rear of the building. That work, scheduled to be finished in early October, includes a new road configuration, pedestrian friendly amenities and a cleaner look in which all utility lines are being relocated underground.
The building's synthetic stucco, which is no longer allowed by the village, required a considerable amount of expensive maintenance. Amin said he changed the covering twice at a cost of about $100,000.
Beneath that, the original brick was not in good enough shape to restore so a new layer is being added on all three sides of the building. Three large windows also are being cut into the south wall, overlooking the park and a rear entrance is being built.
Amin said he wants to add Mediterranean cuisine to the menu and may consider serving dinner.
"This is a great example of a local businessman who is doing well and wants to have the best building in town," said John Spoden, the village's community development director. "He's really dressing the building back up again."