Cafe checking out of Oak Lawn library
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org April 3, 2014 4:22PM
Nancy Jensen (right) waits on Barb Master at The Bookworm Cafe. The cafe, in the Oak Lawn Public Library, will close by the end of April. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 5, 2014 8:51AM
It’s been a good three-year run, and they would stay if they could, but the owners of The Bookworm Cafe, tucked into the first floor of the Oak Lawn Public Library, are getting ready to check out.
The cafe will be open until later this month — an exact closing date will be determined based on what’s left in stock — and a new tenant is being sought by library officials.
The grand plan of the cafe’s owners, Nancy Jensen, 52, and Andy Vaitkus, 47, was to some day move to her hometown of Muscatine, Iowa, just west of the Quad Cities. Much to their surprise, Vaitkus recently was hired to run the in-store restaurant at a Hy-Vee grocery store there.
He already is working there and living in Iowa with relatives, and Jensen soon will be following him. It’s bittersweet, she said while sitting in the cafe late Wednesday afternoon, to be leaving something they love even though it means she’s returning home.
“If it wasn’t for this opportunity we can’t pass up, we would not be leaving. It’s not because we’re not well-received or busy enough. The community has been very good to us,” she said.
The cafe has become a popular place in the library, with seniors stopping there to visit and chat with friends, moms bringing their young children for snacks, and even business persons settling into comfy chairs to finish tasks on their personal computers or iPads.
“The library staff has been wonderful to us. We have a lot of regulars we see every week. They say, ‘the usual’ and we know what that is. But this job that Andy thought would be good came up,” Jensen said.
One reason Vaitkus took the job is because he’ll “be able to be a little more creative with food specials,” Jensen said.
“We’re limited here. We do our own baked goods but we don’t have a fryer or a hood. There’s no griddle. It’s a great opportunity for him. It’s not that he wasn’t challenged here, but it will be different,” she said.
Barb Master, of Oak Lawn, stopped in Wednesday for a snack with daughter Robyn.
“I come here for my breaks all the time. And they’re lovely people working here,” said Master, who works at the library and lives in Oak Lawn.
Another frequent visitor is security guard Earie Delaney.
“I feel bad already. I’m here every day. They have good food,” he said.
A woman enjoying a grilled cheese sandwich said she felt “cozy” in the cafe.
“I love it here. It’s wonderful. It’s like you’re sitting in their kitchen,” she said.
Jensen smiled at that comment.
“A couple people have shown interest in coming in here. I’m sure it will reopen,” she said. “I wish I had a date. I don’t know exactly when we’ll close, because if we’re out of all the meat on the 25th, I’m not going to order enough for three more days.”
The couple also ran the snack shop at the New Lenox Public Library, which they closed in December.
The Bookworm Cafe will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
Library director Jim Dieters wants to avoid putting vending machines in the space, saying, “I’d rather have people.”
Whoever takes the space won’t need to buy new equipment because everything is staying in the cafe’s kitchen, Jensen said.
“I have feelers out to a few places and a few folks have contacted me,” Dieters said. “Nothing concrete at all, but I’m hoping we’ll find a good vendor.
“It would be great if I could find somebody this good. Libraries struggle with cafes, even the bigger ones do, but Andy and Nancy found their niche because he’s such a good cook. It’s going to be hard to replace them with the level people are used to with The Bookworm Cafe, but we’re going to try,” Dieters said.
A cafe in that space first opened in 2004, he said. After several vendors tried but failed there, Jensen and Vaitkus had the winning touch, he said.
“They’ve done a great job. Many of our staff goes there, and so do people from the village (hall across the street),” Dieters said.
The site is leased from the library. For more information, contact Dieters at (708) 422-4990, Ext. 300, or Vaitkus at (708) 268-8853.