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June 29, 2022

The owners of a Chicago-based restaurant chain have acquired the final city endorsement toward their expected opening of a new fine dining establishment in Lake Forest.

At its June 21 meeting, the City Council unanimously approved (with Ald. Melanie Rummel, 2nd Ward, absent) a special-use permit request submitted by Ballyhoo Hospitality for the proposed Sophia Steak restaurant at 181 E. Laurel Ave. The permit was required as the restaurant is set to be within 150 feet of a residential development.

Sophia Steak is set to occupy the same space where restaurants known as The Grille and MLG once operated prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

With the space now vacant, council members believed the new restaurant will add some vitality to the area.

“I think the general message is you are bringing something to Lake Forest of value. It is not just a value to your organization, but to all of us,” Ald. Ara Goshgarian, 3rd Ward, said to the owners at the meeting.

However, some residents, including some who live in the nearby Regent’s Row development, offered similar concerns to those expressed in May when the city’s Plan Commission recommended City Council approval of the special-use permit.

Those trepidations included the hours of operation, given there will be outdoor seating. Sophia Steak is set to be open Sundays through Thursdays from 4 to 10:30 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 11:30 p.m.

Regent’s Row resident Harry Lamberson said he favored the restaurant opening, but added noise was a problem at the previous restaurants at that location.

He asked the council that patio activities be stopped at 10 p.m.

“We certainly can hear the activity from outside the restaurant,” Lamberson said.

Glenn Keefer, one of the Sophia Steak partners, replied the longer hours were necessary to make the operation financially viable. He added he believed noise would be limited at the restaurant where he anticipated patrons would pay approximately $100 per person.

“This is a fine dining environment where we are not creating a party atmosphere,” Keefer said.

Community development director Catherine Czerniak said after the meeting the patio will not be covered, which would likely limit large-scale use in cold weather months.

Another issue raised by neighbors were potential odors emanating from the restaurant, which Lamberson said was another issue at the previous eateries.

Keefer countered the ovens his team uses do not produce the types of fumes that he believed led to the previous problems.

Finally, city officials said they were aware some neighbors were anxious about parking issues, but as part of the agreement, employees will not be able to park on the nearby public streets or the neighboring private parkways. Czerniak anticipated most employees would park off-site in the public lots east of the railroad tracks.

The owners once again stated they would like the ability to play music outside to enhance the dining experience, something currently prohibited under the city code. As part of its overall vote, the council directed the Plan Commission to review existing policy regarding the use of outdoor speakers and amplified sound outside restaurants to determine if change is appropriate.

Keefer said people will be able to bring pets onto the patio, and service animals will be allowed into the restaurant.

“Like humans, if they misbehave, they will be shown the door,” Keefer said.

While he did not vote as he is not required to under council rules, Mayor George Pandaleon characterized the plan as an “exciting moment,” but urged the neighbors to be “vigilant.”

“Let us know how it is going,” Pandaleon said. “If there are problems, a special-use permit can be reopened at any time and be modified. That is one of the beauties of this approach. We look forward to a great success.”

Ballyhoo has six restaurants operating in the Chicago area, and this will be the second Sophia Steak with another one open in Wilmette.

Ryan O’ Donnell, one of the other partners, said after the meeting he was not certain of the opening date for Sophia Steak in Lake Forest, but thought it would be later this year.

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