NORTH PARK — What's going to happen to the Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club restaurant?
That was the first question that popped into neighbors' minds — or at least the one most of them immediately posted to social media — after learning Northeastern Illinois University had acquired, via eminent domain, land along Bryn Mawr Avenue, including the building that houses the restaurant.
Owner Manny Mejia has been wondering the same thing.
The M Henry veteran opened Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club in the fall of 2014 and immediately won the hearts and stomachs of North Park diners, who embraced Mejia not just for his chorizo skillets and kiwi-blackberry french toast but for bringing an Andersonville/Lincoln Square-type joint to a neighborhood that isn't Andersonville or Lincoln Square.
Despite the enthusiastic response, including a visit from "Check, Please!," Mejia has been operating under a cloud.
When he signed his lease on the storefront at 3401 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Mejia said the owner told him NEIU had set its sights on the land but thought any action by the university was at least five years off.
Instead, NEIU initiated eminent domain proceedings in August 2014. The plan is to build student housing there, though there is no timeline for construction.
"I didn't know it was happening so soon," said Mejia of the eminant domain effort upheld by the courts. "It's now."
The mild-mannered chef occasionally admits to being angry over the eminent domain situation, which sapped some of the joy out of opening his own restaurant.
"The first six or seven months, I was really worried," he said, with his focus split between establishing his business and preparing to lose it.
Now he's distracted with making plans for how to save it.
Mejia anticipates, but has yet to be told, that he has roughly a year before he needs to vacate the premises.
So in short order he'll be conducting a search for a new space, on Bryn Mawr.
"You know, my name is Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club. I have to be here. I don't want to go far," Mejia said.
"Everyone's been very supportive. We have a lot of regulars," he said.
Anything portable — furniture, kitchen equipment, decorative items — can be moved to wherever he settles, but "the rest is a waste," Mejia said of all the other upgrades he made to the storefront.
"I'll lose a full year's work," he said, and confessed to being worried that the new space will disappoint customers who've come to love the urban-rustic look of the current one.
If he can't find a storefront that previously housed a restaurant, his expenses will increase by an order of magnitude, said Mejia, who, as a tenant as opposed to a property owner, won't receive any relocation assistance associated with eminent domain.
One of the biggest costs associated with a kitchen buildout, to the tune of $30,000 to $40,000, is the installation of a ventilation hood, which requires the hiring of an architect and entails a cumbersome permitting process.
Though a hood would be nice, Mejia really only has one caveat when it comes to his real estate search: "Next time I want to make sure they don't want to demolish the building."
Regardless of the challenges, Mejia remains committed to keeping the Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club true to its name.
"I'm not leaving," he said. "I'm happy here."