I had some reservations about telling you about Jolane's Cafe in Glenview, IL mainly because it's owned by the Abt family, the same people who are my biggest account - Abt Electronics. Jolane's is part of the Abt Design Center which is a small shopping area just to the south of the mammoth Abt store on Milwaukee Ave. (see map). I was at Abt Electronics for a weekend event recently and a handful of us went over to Jolane's for lunch.
I had the food from Jolane's Cafe on a couple occasions before, but had never actually eaten in the place. When I did training for Focal and Cambridge Audio last summer, I had some food catered in for the event. It was primarily appetizer food and such, and it was pretty good. And at an event Abt Electronics had last fall, they had catered in some food from Jolane's to help feed the people working the event. I had a sandwich that was pretty good.
Jolane's is named after the mother of the owner of Abt Electronics, Bob Abt. Jolane - a.k.a. Jewel - emigrated to America from Austria at the age of six. A very self-sufficient and independent woman, she was one of the first women to own a car in Chicago in the 1920's. She traveled alone to Cuba during the height of the Depression in the early 30's. In 1934, she met and married Dave Abt and two years later they opened their first electronics store in the Logan Square area in Chicago.
Jewel's "can-do" attitude is what helped put Abt Electronics on the map. After retiring from working at the store well into her 70's, she continued her independent streak by taking an Alaskan cruise at the age of 84 and going to Japan by herself at the age of 90. Jewel Abt died in 2002 just short of her 97th birthday leaving a legacy that the Abt family carries on in her name with Jolane's Cafe.
Designed to be a restaurant that is similar to a European Cafe, Jolane's opened in the fall of 2008 offering gourmet coffees and teas, pastries and baked goods, a nice selection of wines and specialty drinks, and full lunch menu and dinner menu to choose from. The main dining room is cozy and inviting, and Jolane's features a sun room/bar atrium that is open, light and airy. John Collante is the executive chef at Jolane's and Jay Jones is the manager. I've worked with Jay on a couple of occasions as I had some food catered in for the Abt crew during trainings. He's a good guy and very thorough in his approach.
Five of us went over to Jolane's for lunch - a couple friends of mine who work for Mitsubishi and Martin Logan, and a couple sales guys from Abt. We decided to eat in the sunny and warm atrium area. Actually, when Jolane's was originally built, an outdoor patio stood where the atrium is today. I understand a little over a year ago the Abt's decided to enclose the outdoor seating area with sort of a "greenhouse" feel to the place. I asked one of the sales guys from Abt if it got hot out in the atrium in the summertime and he said, "Oh, yeah. So much that the air conditioning has a hard time of keeping up."
I was told by the guys that Jolane's makes a mean bloody mary and we all decided to get one for lunch. They're served in 16 oz. glasses with a bunch of munchie additions including a boiled peeled shrimp, a bleu cheese stuffed olive and a slice of salami. Yep, salami in a bloody mary. It wasn't bad, but a little weak in taste for me.
I wasn't overly certain what I wanted to have. I'd had breakfast earlier in the day fully anticipating that I wouldn't have time for lunch, so I wasn't overly hungry. One of Jolane's featured items at lunch that day was their Philly cheese steak sandwich with a chipotle dressing. A couple of the guys ordered that. My friend from Mitsubishi got the black angus cheese burger and my friend from Martin Logan got the roasted chicken sandwich topped with bleu cheese.
I hemmed and hawed for a moment between the chipotle lime chicken wrap - chunks of grilled chicken breast with bacon bits, avocado, lettuce and a chipotle lime dressing wrapped in a tortilla shell - and the Harvest tuna sandwich - a tuna salad sandwich mixed with chunks of tomato and cucumber, then served on a multi-grain bread. Not too exciting, but that's what I ended up going with. A side of Jolane's homemade potato chips came with the sandwich.
When the food finally showed up (it took over 25 minutes for the food to get to our table), the Harvest tuna salad sandwich was a big one. It nearly filled the plate and left little room for the potato chips. And that was fine with me - I can give or take potato chips, and, quite honestly, Jolane's homemade potato chips weren't anything special. The tuna sandwich was OK, as well. Nothing special, nothing that jumped out on the taste buds, it was just a nice sandwich.
What I should have gotten was the black angus burger. My friend told me, "Oh, man! Yeah, it's good." It was thick and juicy, served on a pretzel roll and he got cheddar cheese on top of it. The cheese was oozing down the sides of the burger. (Update - I did get the burger on my next visit about a week ago. It was actually very good.)
The nice thing about eating at Jolane's with guys from Abt Electronics is that we got a 15% discount for eating there. And that was appreciated because the bill can get to get a little on the high side for lunch. I paid for lunch for one of the Abt guys and with a tip it came to about $31 bucks. And that was with the discount.
The next day, the Abt's catered food in from Jolane's for their employees and for the manufacturers reps that were working the event. I went upstairs to their employee dining area with a longtime friend who is now working for Audioquest cables and they had a number of things to choose from - one of which was the chipotle lime chicken wrap. I immediately selected that.
And I'm glad I did. The taste sensations in the wrap were much more forward than what I had the day before with the tuna sandwich. It was actually pretty good. And it was large - I couldn't finish the whole thing, but I did make sure to pick out the tender grilled chicken breast chunks before I put it down.
As we were sitting there enjoying our lunch, Mike Abt (pictured left) came by and asked if he could sit with us. Mike Abt is Bob Abt's son and the "number one" son when it comes to running the company with his dad. I've gotten to know Mike over the past couple of months and he's a very nice guy. I asked him how Jolane's was doing for the family and he said, "Well, we had a lot of problems finding the right manager for the first few months. We went through, I don't know, three or four before we found the right guy."
He continued, "Food-wise, it's good. Service-wise, it's getting much better. Money-wise... Well..." He admitted that the overhead at Jolane's was an on-going battle. "It's not quite the money drain it was initially, but it's getting better."
I told him that any new restaurant was going to experience some money problems until it got a foothold and he said, "And we knew that, too. We just didn't expect it to continue for as long as it did. That's one of the reasons we worked through so many managers. I think we've got the right guy in place now."
While I did like the chicken chipotle lime wrap, the tuna sandwich I had at Jolane's was average, at best. But, then again, there's really not a lot that you can do to a regular tuna sandwich unless you're able to doctor up the tuna salad with ground horseradish or cajun seasonings, like I do at home. I can't say that Jolane's was outstanding, but it's a nice place to go for lunch while you're over shopping at Abt Electronics or at one of the nearby design stores. That's why I initially said that I had some reservations about talking about Jolane's because I wasn't going to suck up and say it was outstanding. But it's good enough that I'm sure that I'll be back there many times over the coming years as we continue to grow our business with Abt.