A new barbecue restaurant has opened in Mundelein's Hawley Lake Plaza, a long-floundering shopping center trying to make a comeback with a fresh facade and other aesthetic improvements.
The takeout-only joint at 428 N. Lake St. is called In and Out BBQ, and it's already gaining a following after just a few weeks serving ribs, brisket, pulled pork and other slow-cooked delicacies.
"Mundelein's been great," said owner Quinton Beal, of Grayslake. "It's been overwhelmingly welcoming."
Count Mundelein Trustee Ray Semple among the early In and Out fans. He stopped in to get food for a party after the town's Community Days parade July 3 and was quickly hooked.
"This place (has) fantastic stuff and can compete with the best," he said.
Center has struggled
Set on the northwest corner of Hawley and Lake streets, Hawley Lake Plaza is on the western edge of Mundelein's downtown business district. But its high-profile location hasn't helped tenants stay afloat.
Through the years, the L-shaped building became noticeably worn and the parking lot crumbled. And tenants moved out, one by one.
Many of the plaza's storefronts have been vacant for years. A Walgreens that once anchored the center was shuttered in 2000 and its space never was repurposed. In and Out's predecessor, Hong Kong Chop Suey, moved out in 2012, relocating a half block south to 319 N. Lake St.
Current businesses include a Subway sandwich shop, the Family Fishery restaurant, Jim's Liquors and a Verizon Wireless store that also opened this summer.
Last year, the property owner, TH Commercial Services, struck a tax-sharing deal with Mundelein officials that led to a significant, ongoing renovation of the building and parking lot.
The agreement calls for the village to reimburse the landlord a portion of the money it spends to improve the center's appearance, up to $750,000.
The money is coming from sales-tax revenue generated by the businesses there. So if the businesses don't generate enough sales, the owners won't get the full $750,000.
And since the village cuts checks to TH Commercial Services only after work on a given part of the renovation is completed, the firm has an incentive to do the projects quickly.
Mundelein Trustee Dawn Abernathy called the deal a win for the town and the center.
"The residents of Mundelein are starting to see the results of working with businesses and developers," said Abernathy, who's become an In and Out fan. "I know this is only the beginning."
Owner had a vision
Because of the construction work, In and Out has had a limited menu since its soft opening July 1. Some dishes aren't available every day, and a few -- such as hot links -- haven't been offered yet at all.
The restaurant will expand to a full menu and have a proper grand-opening celebration as soon as the work is done, Beal said, hopefully in August.
Beal, who's joined at In and Out by girlfriend and cashier Brittany White and cook Brandon Sampson, is excited to be part of the change in town.
"I came to Mundelein and I just saw a vision of this place," Beal said. "Who doesn't want to be part of the growth of Mundelein?"
Amanda M. Orenchuk, Mundelein's acting community development director, said it's gratifying to see new tenants move into Hawley Lake Plaza and storefronts elsewhere in town.
"Businesses, just like customers, want to be in places that have vibrancy and are attractive environments," Orenchuck said. "Between private investment and village incentives, the spaces in the village are beginning to see reinvestment and renewed interest."
And boy, is there ever interest in the food at In and Out.
Local resident Daniel Juarez lives so close to the restaurant that he can walk there -- and he does. Regularly.
"Over Community Days weekend, I went three times," Juarez said. "The ribs I had over the weekend were excellent."
Fellow resident Christine Coleman has become a regular customer, too.
"We have been to the place four times in the last two weeks," she said. "It's nice to see some great restaurants go in Mundelein."
Beal appreciates the praise.
"That is the reward for me, when people enjoy your food," he said. "It feels great."