Greenhouses keep North Shore restaurants growing

Amid the cold winter, glass structures have been key to keeping restaurants running



A busy Saturday night at Glencoe’s Guildhall restaurant, one of many eateries using greenhouses to keep in-person dining alive

Walking down Vernon Avenue in Glencoe any given Saturday, you would see the glimmering blue lights coming from the dozen plexiglass, house-like, private dining spaces on the sidewalk. These spaces that shelter diners outside Guildhall Restaurant at 694 Vernon Ave are lovingly referred to as greenhouses.

With indoor dining limited across the North Shore, many restaurants have built these greenhouses to shelter diners from unforgiving weather, helping to keep their businesses afloat during Covid. 

The goal was to create a safe and fun experience for families. We created a special drink and bites menu which includes fondue and s’mores. We also provide speakers to play music and games to add to the experience”

— Lou Rubin

Depending on the restaurant, greenhouses differ in size and style. Some large enough for a couch, and others just enough for a table. All allow diners to feel more comfortable than they would indoors. 

On the larger and more luxurious side, Hometown Coffee and Juice, 700 Vernon Ave, is currently home to 8 greenhouses  that can be rented prior to arrival with an accompanying charge. Each of the 8 greenhouses has a different size and layout. Here families sit on couches, work on laptops, and listen to music through the amenity speakers.

The goal was to create a safe and fun experience for families. We created a special drink and bites menu which includes fondue and s’mores. We also provide speakers to play music and games to add to the experience,” said Lou Rubin, owner of Hometown.

On the other hand, Guildhall and 501 Local have a more streamlined approach. All greenhouses are the same size with no reservation charge. At Guildhall, 12 identical greenhouses are lined along the sidewalk. The goal is to maximize the amount of diners outside and minimize the amount inside.

To operate the steady flow of diners these greenhouses must be sanitized. Both Rubin and Mark Salmon, manager of 501 Local, 501 Chestnut St, say the greenhouses are sanitized and aired out after every use. 

A thorough process of multiple servers spraying, wiping, and airing out these greenhouses takes place before every meal. 

Not all restaurants have  sidewalk space or desire to build greenhouses. A newcomer on the block, Spirit Elephant, 924 Greenbay Rd, has focused on making indoor dining as safe as possible. They have worked on creating a safe ventilation system using their own unique naturalistic style.

“We have put in an Iwave air filtration system and we have over 75 live plants cleaning the air as well. Customers have commented often how safe they feel at Spirit Elephant,” said manager Daniel Meyers.

Along with the improved air filtration system, many restaurants have enforced strict sanitation practices from their employees.

“We are still operating at 25% capacity but with tables spaced 6 feet apart, we do not approach that limit,” said Meyers. “All staff are temperature-checked when arriving at work and try to maintain social distance while working.  We sanitize regularly and wear gloves both in the kitchen and front of the house.  Staff is very conscious of what they touch and make sure that if they touch something that has been in front of a customer, they must wash hands/sanitize and put on new gloves.” 

The pandemic has forced restaurants like Spirit Elephant to improvise. “Throughout the year we have had to be resilient and think outside the box to make sure we could continue to get our amazing plant-based food into the mouths of our customers while making them feel safe.  We have had a robust carryout and delivery business which still continues as we are now allowed to welcome back indoor diners at a reduced capacity,” said Meyers.

Hometown also has a strong takeout system, thanks to an app the restaurant developed prior to the pandemic. This has proven to be an effective move. It has eased the transition from inside dining to pandemic dining. Customers order from their smartphone and then either pick it up at the door or have it delivered to their car in special Hometown parking spaces.

“Our plan is to keep them through winter and hopefully bring them back again next year,”said Rubin.