When proprietors Shaun Black and Tim Canning first set down roots for their combination west suburban gourmet market and fast-casual eatery, they had no idea how quickly the business would grow.
But Downers Grove residents found the Lemon Tree Grocer so appealing that Black and Canning soon found themselves revamping and remodeling the space, which opened in August 2010. By the following spring, the dining area had blossomed into a full-fledged sit-down restaurant.
The duo wanted to “create an ambiance on par with the food,” Black explains. So now Zest Bistro, a clean and contemporary 42-seat eatery, occupies the market’s northwest corner. Here, diners can sample classic bistro fare conceived by Canning, who also serves as Zest’s chef.
Housed in a new building in Downers Grove’s quaint downtown, the grocery store had a strong industrial vibe — soaring ceilings, exposed mechanicals and concrete flooring — which the owners carried over into the bistro.
“The space had such an open feel,” Black says. “But we also wanted to shrink it down.”
So elements were added to create intimacy in the dining room while still maintaining a connection between Zest and Lemon Tree.
Begging-to-be-touched Italian fringe “curtains,” for example, create a transparent dividing line between the two.
“They make the place more comfortable and cozy without having a definite wall between the restaurant and grocery store,” says Black, who spearheaded the design project.
A concrete-topped wood communal table also creates a subtle demarcation between the dining room and the market.
“We’re trying to bring a little city atmosphere and vibe to the suburbs,” says Black of the versatile piece, which is also used for product and wine tastings.
In addition to the communal table, seating is a mix of basic wenge wood tables, euro café chairs and banquettes. The moveable banquettes — with their black vinyl-upholstered bottoms and lemon-yellow chenille backs — offer flexibility and allow the room to be changed for different events.
Guests can also sit at the simple zebrawood-based counter and grab a morning latte and a fresh pastry or linger over an evening glass of Shiraz and an Italian cheese plate. The owners gave the bar area some zest by covering its back wall in shimmery, neutral-toned glass tiles.
“It’s very earthy,” Black says of the tilework. “And we thought it fit well with the design of the space.”
Bright citrus flashes also appear around the room — from an orange accent wall to the yellow double-drum lights that hover above.
“We really felt we needed that pop. We felt it would make the space warmer,” Black says.
Although the bistro decks out its tables with white linens and candles during the dinner hour, Black describes the eatery as “unpretentious.”
“It’s casual and cozy, with a great neighborhood feel,” he says. “We’re a neighborhood grocery store and restaurant, and we plan to be here for years to come.”
Zest Bistro at Lemon Tree Grocer
935 West Burlington Avenue
Downers Grove, Illinois 60515