Tina G's helping to build Mundelein's roster of indie eateries

As they made plans to create their third restaurant, Phil and Tina Gilardi knew they wanted to locate the operation in their hometown, Mundelein.

The husband-and-wife team already had the successful Tavern on 60 sports bar and restaurant at 330 Townline Road in Mundelein, as well as the more upscale Philly G's in neighboring Vernon Hills.

But for the new restaurant, Tina G's, the Gilardis were staying local.

“We like the town,” Phil Gilardi said. “(Mundelein) has been very receptive to us.”

Rewarding that economic loyalty, the Gilardis opened Tina G's in late July at 10 E. Park St., an old brick building in Mundelein's downtown business district.

It's the latest independent eatery to open in the village, adding to a list of dining options that extend beyond the corporate, cookie-cutter menus of ubiquitous national chains.

In early July, a takeout joint called In and Out BBQ opened at 428 N. Lake St., a short walk from Tina G's. Its brisket and St. Louis ribs already have gained cultlike followings.

This past March a carryout-only bakery called Tony Cannoli opened at 460 N. Lake St. Village Administrator John Lobaito called Tony's his favorite place for Italian desserts.

And late last year, a coffee shop called the Area General Store opened at 18 E. Park St., just two doors from Tina G's. Regulars swear it has the best coffee around.

They joined established, independent favorites that include the award-winning Franks for the Memories Buffalo wing stand, Mauri's Famous Cafe, the Caboose Restaurant, Royal Cantonese and Taste of Paris.

Sure, the town also has a McDonald's, a Culver's and a few other popular fast-food chains, and its first Panera franchise is set to open next year. But for Mundelein residents like Vic and Kim McFadden, the independent places are where it's at.

“We prefer the local restaurants over chain restaurants because they offer fresher foods (and) support the local economy,” Vic McFadden said. “Mundelein has some of the best Mexican, Italian, Asian and seafood, not to mention several good affordable breakfast and burger spots.”

Chains stayed away

National sit-down restaurant chains long have eschewed Mundelein, choosing instead to operate in nearby towns such as Vernon Hills and Lincolnshire.

Of Mundelein's 89 restaurants, 59 are independently owned, Lobaito said. That's about 66 percent.

In stark contrast, only five of Lincolnshire's 28 restaurants are independent, less than 18 percent, officials there said.

Mundelein's percentage is closer to the state average of 63 percent and the national average of 64 percent, National Restaurant Association spokeswoman Christin Fernandez said.

“The industry has and continues to be an industry of small business,” Fernandez said.

The farm-to-table movement, which promotes serving locally produced food at restaurants, helps independent eateries, too.

“The greater visibility and availability of locally farmed or raised product has made it easier for independents to build and thrive,” said Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association. “Many chains and quick-service restaurants are recognizing the shift in consumer thinking and (are) adopting policies to source locally wherever possible.”

Quinton Beal, owner of In and Out BBQ, called the rise of independent restaurants in Mundelein “a great thing” for food lovers.

A chef in a locally owned restaurant is more likely to make dishes from scratch with fresh ingredients than to use processed items purchased from a food service company, he said, and that means better meals for customers.

Take In and Out's flavorful macaroni and cheese.

“We don't use cheese sauce to cut costs,” Beal said. “It costs a lot to make it, but people like it.”

Integrity matters

Sometimes that authenticity even carries over into the decor of an independent restaurant.

Eat at Tina G's and you'll see black-and-white wedding photos hanging on the walls throughout the dining room. Those aren't stock images purchased from an out-of-state photo agency — they feature the Gilardis' parents, grandparents and other cherished relatives.

“There's something to be said for homeiness and integrity,” she said.

Phil Gilardi likes that you can walk into any of Mundelein's independent restaurants and chat with the owner.

“That's important to us,” he said. “You're never going to get that at a chain. There is no 'Mr. Chili's.'”

As a resident who regularly patronizes Mundelein restaurants, McFadden feels it's important to spend his money in his hometown.

“We're a hardworking, solid middle-class community that takes pride in what we do,” he said. “It's nice to see that others are recognizing it as a go-to spot to eat and have fun.”

Mundelein Trustee Holly Kim urged any entrepreneurs thinking about opening a restaurant or a gastropub to consider Mundelein.

“The residents are hungry for it,” she said.

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  A picture of owners Phil and Tina Gilardi hangs inside Tina G's, in Mundelein. Steve Lundy/
  Tina G's is the latest independently owned restaurant to open in Mundelein. Steve Lundy/
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