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Untapped Synergy Awaits Downtown Restaurants, Theatre

Many downtown restaurants are hungry to do cross-promotional deals with the recently opened Gorilla Tango Theater. Will this help in the efforts to revitalize downtown Skokie?

Another spark for revitalizing downtown Skokie could be kindled if restaurants and the rejuvenated Skokie Theater can concoct cross-promotional agreements desired by all parties.

A Patch survey of almost all downtown restaurants and Chicago’s Gorilla Tango Theatre, which purchased the Skokie Theater for $420,000, found  a recognition the theater could generate pedestrian traffic and a hunger for before-and-after-show nearby dining options.

As a result, Gorilla Tango CEO Dan Abbate said he’d welcome conversations from the restaurant owners on mutually-beneficial deals, such as discounts for food or drinks upon presentation of theater tickets.

Abbate mentioned a movie night at the theater  tied in with restaurants. That in turn has stoked the imagination of at least one restaurant owner, Ruben Villanueva of Eclissi, 8018 Lincoln Ave., who is mulling showing classic movies on the outdoor patio behind the Italian-themed diner.

The re-opening of the troubled theater this year for regular shows is considered a key element in helping the restaurants make downtown a destination that has been lacking for decades.  The presence of theaters in downtown Highland Park, Arlington Heights and other suburban downtowns is considered crucial in helping stoke commerce for surrounding businesses, especially restaurants.

“You need a destination, something to draw people,”  Abbate said. “People will go for the entertainment, then stay around there (to eat). The nice thing about downtown vs. other locations, it’s more pedestrian-friendly to walk around.”

Abbate said he’d welcome similar cross-promotional ideas such as one he enjoys with venerable Village Inn, 8050 Lincoln Ave., where customers can get a free drink if they bring in a program from the theater.

“We’re interested in working with them if they would like to work with us,” said Abbate. “Right now we’re focused on getting our production schedules going, pulling audiences in.”

Bucktown theater-restaurants a model

The restaurants likely would have to initiate contact with Abbate at his Chicago headquarters, as no Gorilla Tango staffers are stationed at the Skokie Theater. But Abbate wants to duplicate the success he enjoys at his base theater in the city at 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave.

“We do about 1,000 people a week in Bucktown,” he said. “People call up and ask what restaurants do you have there? It’s nice to have that option.”

Abbate already has dined at Village Inn, Kabul House and Tub Tim Thai. He plans to visit De-Jred, the Jamaican restaurant at 4901 Oakton.

The theater already has benefited by patrons arriving via the new Oakton Yellow Line stop, who then must walk down Oakton past a number of the restaurants.

“Fifty percent of people in production and acting at the theater are taking the L from the city,” Abbate said.  “I live in Bucktown, and roller-blade  to the Purple Line, transfer to the Yellow Line, and roller blade to the theater.”

Most logical of the dining beneficiaries of the theater is Libertad, a Latin restaurant across the street at 7931 Lincoln. Co-owner Marcos Rivera was one of several  restaurant operators who had a business relationship with Skokie Theater’s previous owner, and wants to resume one with GorillaTango.

“Of course we would,” Rivera said. “Anything like that is a benefit.”

Unanimous backing of deals with theater

Seconding that notion were Eclissi’s Villanueva, Akmal Qazi of Kabul House, Delroy Powell of De-Jred, Argie Varvouletos of Annie’s Old Fashioned Pancake House and Krai Jirathitikal of Tub Tim Thai.

All but Annie’s are open at night. However, Abbate is looking to do more matinee programming, including children’s shows,  that could further boost Annie’s breakfast and lunch business. Varvouletos said she gave customers a 10 percent discount if they presented a theater ticket under the previous ownership.

“I think these guys got a little more power, a little more style,”  Villanueva said of Gorilla Tango. “On the weekends you see more people walking downtown (due to the open theater). “

Peggy Villegas, Villanueva’s girlfriend and assistant at Eclissi,  said Skokie Theater producer Suzanne Coors has had dinner at the restaurant with co-workers.

Eclissi, Kabul House and De-Jred have opened in downtown over the past three years amid the difficult economy, and could use a boost from a consistently-open theater.

Eclissi has been helped by some party business in which the entire restaurant was used. Villanueva said he is considering showing classic films like “Casablanca” in his back outdoor patio if there are no problems with village ordinances.

Businesses desiring a relationship with the Skokie Theater can reach Abbate at 847/677-7761 or Info@GorillaTango.com.

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