Evanston to repurpose Little Beans Cafe into community center

Little Beans, the popular cafe and play place on the corner of Asbury Avenue and Oakton Street in Evanston that was purchased by the city in February, is set to be revamped as the South End Community Center.

Evanston Parks and Recreation Director Audrey Thompson outlined the work that has been done since the purchase during a combined 2nd, 5th and 8th Ward community meeting on March 28.

According to Thompson, the new community center will host the city’s accessible recreational programs along with an indoor pickleball court, an expanded gymnastics program and will temporarily house the staff and animals of the Evanston Ecology Center until renovations to their home base are done in October 2024.

Thompson said the biggest reason the department pushed for the building was to provide a home for those who need accessible recreation opportunities.

“It always felt like they got what was left over and I always felt like that was not a good way to run a department,” Thompson said.

Accessible recreation camps will be hosted at the center starting in June along with drop-in hours. The cafe, tentatively named Evanston’s Own Cafe, will reopen in late June/early July and feature Evanston-based businesses.

The center’s preschool is expected to be open in August, according to Thompson and will also take on some of the Ecology Center programs including hosting birthday parties, which are already being booked. Parents looking to enjoy a date night can drop their children off at the center and enjoy discounts at several South Evanston businesses.

The Evanston City Council voted 5 to 2 at the Jan. 22 meeting to approve the purchase of the building for a maximum cost of $2.6 million.

Some on the council wanted to wait and include the project in next year’s budgeting process but others said with the business closing, it presented an opportunity for the city to expand services.

Councilmember Bobby Burns said even though Little Beans closed due to staffing struggles, the need for the services it provided are still there.

“They had business-related issues that I don’t think we’ll have as a city,” Burns said. “One of the roles of government is when the market fails; that’s when government should step in if it really is addressing a need.”