About Tinley Park Restaurant Cavallini’s In The Park’s Farewell
Recently, the owner of the café and restaurant at the historic Tinley Park Oak Park Avenue Train Station, Norman W. Elftmann III announced on Facebook that Cavallini’s In The Park will be closing after 20 years serving the Chicago Southland community and commuters.
“Hello Tinley Park residents and all other patrons of Cavallinis. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for 20 wonderful years here at the station. Unfortunately our village has recently decided to not renew our current 5 year agreement. As a result we will be closing our business September 15th 2023. We will not be reopening.“Norman W. Elftmann III, on August 28, 2023 at 9:47 AM
According to a Facebook post made this morning on its Facebook page, this Saturday will be the last Farmers Market that Cavallini’s In The Park will be open for business.
“Come on in and stock up on our local organic honey or flavored coffees. We have just received our last order of honey and various coffees. We will still be open until September 15th but will not be restocking any products after our last orders. Thank all of you again for 20 wonderful years.“Norman W. Elftmann III, on September 6, 2023 at 11:27 AM
Context on Cavallini’s Legacy
For those new to the area, Cavallini’s has been synonymous with Tinley Park for 20 years. Its emblematic location put it at the center of the symbol of the village: that unmistakable train station clocktower— used in countless marketing photos for Tinley Park. Even logos for such local entities as the former Tinley Junction Newspaper.
I’ve known Cavallini’s to be famous for its catering, local honey, and decorations each season, aside from its day-to-day role as mainstay commuter café and restaurant.
My first experience with Cavallini’s was during my first year as a Tinley Park resident and married lady. My husband and I were a little over 6 months married at the time, and we were attending some Christmas season event in Downtown Tinley. It was on December 5, 2014 that I got first hand experience with what all the fuss was about Cavallini’s. I remember the date because I still have a couple photos from that night and the Vine* video I recodrded inside. It was like being in Duncan’s Toy Chest from the Christmas movie Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) or as if we were inside one of the cozy Christkindlmarket vendor’s. Frankly, with how BIG the concept of Christkindlmarket has gotten out here, now not just in Chicago but with two additional locations in Wrigleyville and Aurora, I wonder a little bit as to why the Oak Park Avenue train station didn’t beat Aurora.
*Vine was a once popular mobile social media platform, a pre-cursor to TikTok.
Cavallini’s was even on our list of possible baby shower locations since many moms in my Tinley Park Moms group were recommending it. We went with Frankie’ Ristorante for several reasons, such as closeness to our home and it being a date spot staple for us as a couple. But now I’ll never get that chance to get something catered through Cavallini’s.
What Will Go In Place Of ‘Cavallini’s In The Park’?
I love Starbucks, but I’d hope another restauranteur that can serve commuters and provide catering services takes Cavallini’s In The Park’s place.
I reached out to Daniel Fitzgerald to see if maybe Local One Station over at the 80th Avenue Tinley Park train station is considering opening up a second location there, but haven’t heard back from him. The new commerical business requirements set forth by the Village of Tinley Park on the property make is such that you’d need a business that could support those higher insurance premiums, private security, etc. And according to public record, like Property IQ, Cavallini’s is only worth $234K – $248K. With Metra ridership low, and being a one-man run business, Elftmann III would need to take out a multi-million dollar loan to meet the new requirements and not go backrupt. No easy task for someone who wasn’t trying to turn a million dollar revenue establishment.
“Every 5 years I just renew my agreement. This time I received a termination letter and would have to submit for a completely different agreement that would radically change how the business is run. If they would have just renewed my agreement like 3 times before I would have stayed. I chose to not submit for what I know would not work. I shouldnt need 5 million in insurance for a coffee shop nor should I need private security when we have police and Metra police for that reason. I never started this place to make millions of dollars. I just wanted a warm and cozy family place. Kind of old fashioned. What I do no longer serves the purposes that the new redevelopment of our down town would need for it to fit. I dont agree with the new terms in my RFQ and I didnt agree with the terms of the 80th ave station either which is why I did not fill that RFQ out The building that I am in is not equipped to do much more than I already do.“Norman W. Elftmann III, Facebook comment on August 28, 2023 at 6:42 PM
The Thank You Norm Farewell Appreciation Event
Not long after the August 28, 2023 announcement of its closing on the Cavallin’s In The Park Facebook page, Former Tinley Park Mayor Jacob Vandenberg and Illinois 19th District Senator Michael E. Hastings both made Facebook posts about a farewell appreciation type event taking place on Tuesday, September 12, 2023 for Elftmann III.
I don’t know if this means the event is being funded by either Vandenberg or Hastings, but it is interesting to note that both have had brushes of friction with Village of Tinley Park officials in the last few years, as has Elftmann III.
For those in the know, there’s been friction between the Village of Tinley Park and Elftmann for some time. And the comments section of the August 28, 2023 closure announcement post on Facebook brought a lot of that history to light for the unfamiliar.
Hearsay does not equal facts though. So, in digging deeper into the issue, I learned that there have been several lawsuits between Elftmann III and the Village. And in one instance, Elftmann III filed a complaint to the FBI, claiming political intimidation, as reported by the Chicago Tribune’s Dennis Sullivan on April 12, 2013.
Statements about Elftmann III possibly being muscled out were made, but as Mark Twain once wrote, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t” (Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World, 1897).
As Editor of the Tinley Park Patch Lauren Traut reported,
“[Village Manager Pat] Carr stressed that [village] officials’ decisions are centered around their responsibility to create a vibrant downtown, and that they had assisted Elftmann many times throughout the years. Amidst pandemic struggles in 2020, Elftmann was in danger of closing the business then. The Village stepped in to provide some relief, Carr said.“Cavallini’s Owner Blames Village For Closing; Village Refutes Claims, August 28, 2023
So is this a David vs Goliath situation? That’s what I’d like to be sure of, but some times there aren’t good guys or bad guys. Sometimes it’s just life, and life isn’t easy. Being able to keep up with the economy has always been a bit of an odyssey for businesses big and small. But when the town you’ve called your home base is becoming more affluent, does it owe you for being a part of its fabric by treating you as if it hasn’t developed? If it can afford to let you continue to pay your lease at a lower level than other businesses in town, maybe… but that’s an ethics question not a business question. Heart-wise though, this is an unfortunate story.
Cavallini’s In The Park’s website https://www.cavallinisinthepark.com has for more information and for getting in touch.