Big Star In Wicker Park Adding Expanded Dining Area, Solar Power – Block Club Chicago

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WICKER PARK — Big Star’s flagship Wicker Park restaurant is getting an influx of new seating — and a renewable energy upgrade.

A portion of Big Star’s to-go area at 1531 N. Damen Ave. is being converted into a covered seating area that will accommodate about 100 additional patrons, One Off Hospitality partner Terry Alexander told Block Club Thursday.

The company is also adding solar panels on top of the new dining structure and the original Big Star building, which will generate enough electricity to power the new area plus “50-60 percent” of the rest of the restaurant, he said.

One Off hopes to finish the upgrades by early May, in time for Cinco De Mayo and right before a celebration of Big Star’s 15-year anniversary.

The new dining area will be used for private parties and events, plus busy evenings when Big Star’s main restaurant and patio are full. The restaurant’s to-go window will still be in operation, and a few picnic tables where people can chow down on takeout orders will be available.

Alexander said he imagines the new dining area will be open about three quarters of the year, although perhaps longer if Chicago keeps seeing 70-degree days in February. The new, open-air seating can also provide cover for patio guests during inclement weather.

“We finally took down our gigantic, ugly tent in front. We’ve kind of shifted that over, so now in the winter we pick up [100] more seats,” Alexander said. “That will be also for Fridays and Saturdays, for rainy days.”

An overhead rendering of the under construction dining space and solar panels at Big Star’s Wicker Park location Credit: Provided

The solar panels should also be installed by May in partnership with Chicago-based Windfree Solar, one part of One Off’s larger sustainability initiative, Alexander said. The company also operates avec, Dove’s Luncheonette, The Violet Hour, the Publican restaurant and bakeries and two other Big Stars in West Town and Wrigleyville.

Alexander said in recent years Big Star has shifted to using recyclable utensils, buying electric delivery vans and composting its organic waste.

The company also plans on adding solar power to the West Town Big Star and Publican Quality Bread on Grand Avenue — plus future restaurants down the line.

“Moving forward, this will be something, when we can do this, I think that’s our mindset when we find buildings for new locations,” Alexander said. “I think we’ll be looking for places we can do solar panels.”

In celebration of its 15th anniversary, Big Star is holding a “patio party” the weekend of May 18 that will include live music, a hog roast and more. Alexander said he envisions the new covered dining area as a place to host all kinds of events going forward.

“We just thought that would be a fun place to have parties, get togethers,” he said. “That gives us this whole room off to the side that we can now start programming instead of trying to put something in right in the middle” of the restaurant.

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