Antioch hopes new Lovin Oven Cakery will spark investment downtown
If the cooler at the new Lovin Oven Cakery in Antioch were a tad larger, the space inside would equal that of the entire original storefront operation opened by Ken Slove in 1989.
"We've moved three times. We started in a 1,200-square-foot building," said Slove, who has been tending to countless details involving the makeover of a former department store as his third location and biggest venture.
At 43,000 square feet, the enormous space on the western edge of downtown is more than seven times that of the Round Lake Beach location, where the baking for that store and another in Libertyville has been done.
Slove hopes bigger is better. So does the village, which contributed $250,000 to revive what once had been the largest Ben Franklin store in the country and hopefully spark interest in other projects and business investment.
A sneak preview for local VIPs, complete with a fountain of chocolate, is scheduled for Saturday. The store features cafe seating for 100, two party/meeting rooms and a "bridal suite" for browsing wedding cakes and products. The public opening is Tuesday.
Slove is continuing a family baking tradition. His father in 1946 opened what became a popular spot on Diversey Avenue in Chicago before moving the family and business to Lindenhurst in 1960.
Slove founded Lovin Oven in 1989 but said he ran out of room after every move. For the past three years he's searched in various communities for a suitable building to buy rather than rent.
"This came along and I really did some hard thinking about it," Slove said of the building at 455 Lake St. By that time, it had been vacant about three years and the absentee owners in California wanted to divest.
"It was basically a big white elephant in downtown Antioch," he added. "It got no attention because it needed a lot of work." That included a new roof estimated at about $250,000.
The purchase price was right, but the overall project cost was a stretch, according to Slove. He considered backing out, but a village grant for building improvements closed the gap.
While the village also is making an investment, there is a condition that 80 percent of the grant be refunded if the bakery is out of business in two years.
"We think it will help revitalize that whole Lake Street corridor," said Michael Garrigan, community development director. "We think Lovin Oven being there will bring some new energy."
Indeed, survey comments show Antioch residents want a revitalized downtown, according to Diane C. Williams, director of Business Districts Inc., which has been commissioned by the village to study the area and market.
"Most important, downtown Antioch also has the opportunity to build on its established destination businesses, its vintage character and the interest of successful businesses, like Lovin Oven," she said.
That Lovin Oven chose Antioch shows there is an opportunity in town for growing independent businesses, Williams added.
The venture, which specializes in gourmet cakes, is a homecoming of sorts for Slove, who graduated from Antioch High School and met his wife there. Vinyl covered photos and ads of the family business through the years cover a 10-by-21-foot wall across from the bridal suite.
The Antioch store is intended as the flagship, and its enormous size will offer other opportunities for products and activities, such as decorating classes.
"If there's a demand, we'll do it. If there's a niche, we'll fill it," he said.