Renovated Front Street Cantina open again in Naperville
Just as Front Street Cantina emerged from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns in the spring of 2020, the roof almost literally caved in on the downtown Naperville restaurant.
Less than two weeks before the owners were slated to reopen the dining room to the public, a water pipe burst in the upstairs offices and caused severe damage to the restaurant. While devastating, an opportunity arose to completely remodel the site.
Eighteen months later, Front Street Cantina is back at its 15 W. Jefferson Ave. location with a new look and the same favorites it's been serving since 1993. A new corporate chef even added exciting new menu items.
Because most of the staff returned, the restaurant was able to hit the ground running when it reopened last month.
"You fight through just trying to survive with only to-go orders, and we finally saw light at the end of the tunnel," owner James Trader said. "And then this happened. Everybody had the same reaction of, 'How can this happen now?'"
Generations of Front Street Cantina fans had the option of going to the Plainfield location during the extended closure, but visitors to downtown Naperville still missed the Tacos Campos and fajitas. Those staples remain in addition to new dishes including masa cakes, a shrimp and avocado salad and a braised short rib dish.
It'll be tough for regulars to recognize the interior. The bar was moved from along the wall to the center of the restaurant, creating a more open space for seating. The decorations have a southwest feel, highlighted by the desert landscape mural on the wall.
"Every piece of drywall, every table, every chair, every booth is brand new," Trader said. "The kitchen is brand new. People come in and are surprised at how different it looks. They ask if we have more square footage, but it's just more wide open."
There are also big changes outside the restaurant. Trader and his partners envisioned an outdoor beer garden for quite a while, and the closure allowed them to build a 1,700-square-foot space in back that'll be ready for when the weather warms up.
"We're just glad to be back and part of the community again," Trader said. "We want everyone to enjoy our food and have a good time again."