Violet Sego tried to hang on, but she “couldn’t make it.”
The colorful proprietress of 6037 Dempster in Morton Grove, “wanted out because I couldn’t make it there. I couldn’t make my bills. I just needed 10 to 15 more people for breakfast and lunch.”
After 16 years of home cooking and homespun repartee with her regulars, Niles resident Sego closed down her cozy café a week ago Sunday. Almost immediately, Mir A Hussani and Mohammed Mairaz Sidduqi reached an agreement to take over her space for the May 18 opening of Tandoor 'N Spice Grill, a south Asian restaurant for which Hussani will serve as main chef.
Hussani and Sidduqi technically did not buy Violet’s Café. They purchased her kitchen equipment. Hussani said the maintenance of the same kitchen will speed up the inspection process from the Village of Morton Grove so the opening can be held as planned.
The new owners discovered Sego’s problems from a village inspector, whose identity they did not remember, when they inquired about potential vacancies suitable for a restaurant. Almost immediately, they agreed on a lease with the owner of the 6037 Dempster building. Sego had been in a dispute with the landlord, seeking to lower her rent to cut costs.
“I was looking for a store for a year, and there were a lot of vacancies on Dempster,” Hussani said. “It was too much to get permit (quickly). “All the approvals required village involvement -- plumbing, zoning. It was four months to review.”
Hussani said he has experience catering events at the 8601 Menard. As chef he will make two versions of many of his dishes – spicy and non-spicy, the latter aimed at non-Indians and Pakistanis.
No alcohol at Tandoori
Hussani added he’s opening his restaurant because many Muslim diners objected to alcohol being served at Tava, a contemporary Indian restaurant that opened at 7172 Dempster a year ago.
Sego’s menu was far different than the planned offerings at Tandoori. A Croatian native, she combined American favorites with Eastern European dishes.
Sego had hinted at closing for months. But her final decision was made the day before she shuttered her doors. Many days, Sego was chief cook, bottle washer, waitress and delivery person.
Competition from fast-food places
“On that Sunday, people were coming in, they were crying,” she said. “Some were giving me money. When I had (more) customers, I had the most great people you could have. Three people called me today wishing me well. But (regular customers) died or moved away. Some lost jobs and didn’t have money. People have to live within their means.”
Sego faced tough competition from cheap, fast-food breakfasts at nearby McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts outlets. She advertised $4.95 breakfast and $6.95 lunch specials in her window in recent weeks. But not enough people stopped in for sit-down meals even at these prices.
“I’m looking for a job,” Sego said. “I have to do something. I have my daughter in college. I don’t know if I’ll work again in a restaurant. I’ve had no vacation in nine years, so I’ll take a month off. Sixteen years, this was my social life, I love the people, had great rapport with people. I made delicious food and they enjoyed it.”
While Sego thinks of her next career incarnation, Hussani is re-modeling the restaurant. The classic lunch counter with stools Sego maintained will be gone, so three more tables can be installed. Tandoori will have 12 tables in all.
The new restaurant will be open every day except Monday. Service hours will be for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday. Brunch will be served Saturday and Sunday.
Hussani said staples will included steamed rice with lamb and Chicken Tandoori.