As best as Maria Mandarino can tell, the old building in downtown Libertyville where she has been spending much of her free time likely was built in the 1920s.
But it is not so much the age of the brick building on Milwaukee Avenue that prompted her and partner Daniel Temesy to tackle an interior renovation of the former Henry Yee's Cantonese restaurant, a community staple since 1967.
Rather it is the location downtown, an urge to get back in the restaurant business and an evolving market for dining that prompted the Round Lake couple to take the plunge on their own place.
That they work as managers/bartenders across the street at the eclectic Firkin restaurant has given the couple, who previously operated the Wild Goose Cafe in Hawthorn Woods and Buffalo Grove, a front-row seat and firsthand knowledge of the market.
"I have noticed just in the last year a lot of people coming from all over and making it a destination," Mandarino said of the downtown restaurant/bar scene. "It's kind of like a little city in the suburbs."
And they aren't the only ones with the same idea. Downtown Libertyville has sprouted a restaurant row of sorts, with an assortment of non-chain selections that appear to be bucking the economy.
"We love the demographics, we love the feel of the town, the whole vibe of Milwaukee Avenue those four or five blocks," said Marc Bianchini, who owns and operates four restaurants in Milwaukee.
His first Illinois offering is being built at 547 N. Milwaukee Ave., a long, narrow space that will feature a bar in front and 125-seat dining area in back.
Expected to open within two months, the to-be-named venue will feature international dishes, a "great" bar and a family friendly atmosphere, he added.
"Ours is very different from what everybody else is doing," he said. "It's going to be a very diverse crowd."
Village eateries have held their own and even improved slightly during the economic downturn.
For the third quarter of 2011, the most recent figures available, drinking and eating places generated nearly $147,000 in sales tax for the village -- up from about $136,000 for the same period last year.
And for a community long known as the place to buy a car, the unique mix is considered a valuable part of the whole.
"It's not the same level of sales tax you'll see from a car dealer or big box store," explained Heather Rowe, the village's economic development coordinator, "but it's something that appeals to our residents (and) it appeals to our businesses."
A sushi restaurant also is on the way and some other concepts, such as a self-serve yogurt operation will add to the mix, she said.
Dining is expected to be part of a promotional effort by MainStreet Libertyville, a downtown revitalization group known for sponsoring many activities.
"We've been doing event-focused advertising," executive director Pam Hume said. "We're doing that still and are broadening it to include destination marketing."
Bianchini said clustering restaurants is a good thing in that regard.
"I'm a big believer that business brings business. When you have a concentration of restaurants, it's just good for everybody."
Mandarino said the couple has not selected a name but she promised to deliver a fresh cuisine she described as American with Asian influences.
"I search for things that are favorites that people have to have," she said. Selections likely will include noodle dishes and falafel, for example.
One certainty for the hoped-for opening in May is a loose and casual atmosphere, Mandarino said.
"We're serious about fun," she noted.