Mount Prospect resident Esteban Aguado stands by the site in downtown Mount Prospect where he hopes to open a Mexican restaurant this summer. The village is encouraging residents to open businesses in town.
While working for more than a decade in restaurants and bars all over the Chicago area, Mount Prospect resident Esteban Aguado dreamed of one day opening a place of his own.
If all goes well, his dream will come true in late June, when he expects to opens a Mexican restaurant, Mia’s Cantina, right in the middle of the town he calls home.
“I love it here ... it’s a great place to raise my family,” Aguado said. “It seemed like a natural place to open my business.”
Mount Prospect leaders are actively encouraging residents like Aguado to open businesses in the village, with a particular focus on the downtown area.
To boost interest, the village has hosted several “Entrepreneur Cafe” meetings this year to encourage residents to open businesses and show them how to get started.
In addition, the village has partnered with the Mount Prospect Chamber of Commerce, the Mount Prospect Public Library and the Mount Prospect Downtown Merchants Association to create the “Incubator Program,” which provides new and existing local business owners with seminars, one-on-one mentoring opportunities, location assistance and other services.
Efforts like these are key to keeping the downtown vital in a lackluster economy, village officials said.
“It’s nice to have residents opening businesses in town because they already know the community and they’re truly invested in it,” said Bill Cooney, the village’s community development director. “I think it creates a close atmosphere among the various businesses, too. But it doesn’t work if the business owners don’t have the resources they need to stay open.”
Like most shopping districts in the region, downtown Mount Prospect has struggled to grow during the recession and ensuing slow recovery. There have been some recent successes — CravePizza on Northwest Highway and Emerson’s Ale House on Emerson Street both opened recently, giving residents new dining and entertainment options. Mount Prospect State Bank is moving into a new facility on Central Road. Stay Fit Physical Therapy decided to expand its facility on Prospect Avenue.
The trick, though, has been filling the retail spaces inside newer buildings like the Emerson at Village Centre, which sits at Emerson Street and Busse Avenue. Some of those retail spots never have had a tenant, Cooney said. “Newer space can be more expensive,” he said. “It’s been a struggle to get a lot of those spots occupied.”
That’s where the village’s outreach efforts come in. The first Entrepreneur Cafe meeting attracted roughly 40 people, a turnout Cooney found to be very encouraging.
“It shows that there’s some real interest out there,” he said.
Aguado attended one of the Entrepreneur Cafe meetings and credits it with affirming his desire to open a restaurant in downtown Mount Prospect.
Mia’s Cantina will be located at 143 W. Prospect Avenue, where Prospect meets Pine Street. The restaurant will specialize in popular Mexican dishes. (In addition to overseeing the place, Aguado, a longtime bar manager, plans to take charge of mixing drinks for customers in the early going.)
Aguado and his wife, Joy, a longtime Mount Prospect resident, recently entered into a leasing deal with the village that will give the restaurant the required number of parking spaces. Now Aguado is seeking a liquor license, a process he hopes to complete in a few weeks.
“I’m so excited, more excited than nervous,” he said.
Katie Dix, co-owner of the popular Capannari Ice Cream store in downtown Mount Prospect, knows firsthand how valuable it can be to have local residents as downtown business owners. Three of the store’s four owners — Dix; her husband, Ken; and Meg Capannari — all grew up in Mount Prospect.
“I think that relationship to the community really
resonates with customers,” Dix said. “My business is located just a short distance from a corporate ice cream store, but local customers know it means something when they choose to buy from us.”
Dix said residents thinking about opening a business have to be realistic about what lies ahead. Keeping a small business alive, especially in today’s economic environment, requires near-constant attention and work, she said.
The experience can be rewarding, too, Dix said. She and the other owners opened the store because they remembered how fun it had been to gather as young people in downtown Mount Prospect back in the 1970s. They also had fond memories of holding local jobs together as teenagers.
“We felt that Mount Prospect needed those kinds of things again,” Dix said. “Now, 11 years (after opening), I think the store has accomplished both. It’s a downtown gathering place, and it’s a place where local young people can work. I’m very proud of that.”
For more information about the incubator program and other business initiatives, go to mountprospect.org/biz or call Maura El Metennani at (847) 818-5308.