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Suburban couple serves up food and fun at Chicago's Oak Street Beach
By Deborah Pankey | Daily Herald Staff

Grilled salmon is just one of the sandwiches available at Oak Street Beachstro.

 

Courtesy of Oak Street Beachstro

Oak Street Beachstro, 1001 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago.

 

Courtesy of Oak Street Beachstro

Anthony Priola runs Oak Street Beachstro with his wife, Kimberly.

 

Courtesy of Oak Street Beachstro

Oak Street Beachstro offers views of Lake Michigan you can't get from any other restaurant in Chicago.

 

Courtesy of Oak Street Beachstro

Given sunny warm weather, the annual Air and Water Show can be a boon for Oak Street Beachstro.

 

Courtesy of Oak Street Beachstro

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Published: 8/20/2009 12:12 AM

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When Anthony Priola opened his first lemonade at age 12, little did he know 20-plus years later he'd still be hocking lemonade.

The Mount Prospect man's first foray into food service had him selling 2,000 glasses a day at $2 each to a captive audience of hot, thirsty car salesmen at the daily auto auctions.

Today his menu is much more diverse and his "stand" much more sophisticated. Priola and his wife Kimberly, of South Barrington, own and operate Oak Street Beachstro, the only portable, fully outdoor, full-service restaurant on Chicago's lakefront.

"We tear the entire restaurant down at the end of the each season and rebuild it in the spring," Priola says, explaining a Burnham-era prohibition on permanent, commercial structures on the beach.

The seating is completely alfresco; the tables and chairs on a deck adorned with tropical flowers and palm trees that invokes a Caribbean resort more than it does a Windy City watering hole. Priola and the rest of his kitchen staff work out of a large trailer that houses the cooking and refrigeration equipment.

Because of that setup, the restaurant's bottom line depends entirely on the weather.

"We were closed in July as many days as we were open," Priola said, citing the cool, cloudy, wet month.

"The best marketing campaign we have is a sunny day; we can do 1,500 customers a day. If it's cloudy, we shut the door completely."

The couple pursued the idea for this unique space as a way to offer beachgoers an option beyond hot dogs and Italian ice from a pushcart, and to provide a scenic dining venue for nearby residents and tourists. Oak Street Beachstro serves lunch and dinner daily and breakfast on Saturday and Sunday from the first weekend in May to the last weekend in September. The menu includes paninis, pizza, pasta, sandwiches, seafood, chops and steaks, sides and desserts, as well as wine, beer and specialty cocktails.

To avoid the commute between South Barrington and Chicago, the family, including Mia, 6, Tucker, 9, and A.J., 12, lives in a condo a stone's throw from the bistro, from the last day of school to the first.

"The kids don't know anything different," Kimberly says. "They go to museums, they take Metra." Adds her husband, "Oak Street Beach is their backyard for the summer."

While the physical restaurant shuts down in September, restaurant operations continue year-round. During the off-season, Priola develops new menu items and lines up contracts for the next year while Kimberly tracks taxes, permits and other paperwork necessary to keep the Oak Street Beachstro afloat.