A slice of the Lemon Tree

With a tentative opening set for early June,  the Lemon Tree Grocer is looking for a little help from the community to overcome a few budget-busters incurred on the way to building out the 5,800-square-foot store at 5101 Mochel Drive.

Owners Tim Canning and Shaun Black have launched the Roots Project to encourage supporters of the downtown market and eatery to contribute $50 or more. In return, their names will be inscribed in an art installation in the store’s bar area.

“These literal roots will become symbols of our dedication to our community of Downers Grove while at the same time building up the Lemon Tree,” the store’s website states.

A contribution of $50 or more adds the contributor’s name to the Roots Wall and snags a $10 gift card to the store. For $250 or more, contributors will see their name included in the lemon tree artwork, receive three $20 gift cards and gain an invitation to the store’s Grand Opening Gala. The deadline for donating is April 30.

Canning borrowed the “roots” concept from a friend who opened his Cambridge, Mass., restaurant The Hungry Mother on a shoestring.

“The Roots Project is very similar and is a creative way to bring family, friends and supporters together to embed them into the Lemon Tree’s future,” he said. So far, the store has reached about 25 percent of its fundraising goal, although donors have been “very generous,” Canning said.

The store has incurred some unexpectedly large expenses in its quest to become Downers Grove’s long-awaited downtown grocery. Building permits and variance costs for signage have added up, said Canning, a chef whose previous experience has been in the restaurant business.

“With new additions and little changes here and there costs have crept up along the way,” Canning said. “But we are set in offering the best ideas to the folks of Downers Grove and are willing to accept the costs because we believe the end result will be worth the dollars.”

In preparation for the opening, Canning and Black have traveled the nation to learn from the best gourmet grocery stores.

“Shaun and I were doing research for over a month in Colorado, California, Arizona, Dallas and New York City to fine-tune the Lemon Tree project,” Canning said. The goal is to develop a menu of delicious prepared foods, which will be the centerpiece of the store’s offerings.

Among those dishes will be the creations of the store’s recent recipe contest winners, including the  “Crispy Pancetta, Pear & Goat Cheese Sandwich” by grand prize winner Becky Rheintgen,  soup category winner Chandra Venkat’s  “Lemon Soup,” sandwich winner Elizabeth Walp’s “Salmon Sandwich,” salad winner Margie Cleveland’s “Gorgonzola, Roasted Pecan and Mixed Green Salad” and dessert winner Anne Reilly’s “Lemon Cake with Lemon Frosting.”

Meanwhile, work is continuing on the store’s interior.  “Getting the correct lighting has been the biggest challenge,” Canning said. “To showcase our vibrant produce, we outlined this entire area with special tracks that will ‘pop’ the natural colors of our fresh-picked bounty.”

The store will feature dark wood and stainless steel to showcase the food. “The bar area has a cool feel with Oceanside tile and high bar stools which are perfect to hang out after work and have a glass of wine or cold local draft beer,” Canning said.

“Outside, we are creating a European-feeling patio with an abundance of flower boxes and lots of natural tones,” he said.

It literally has taken a village to bring a gourmet grocery store to the pricier environs of downtown Downers Grove.  As part of an agreement with Michael’s Fresh Market, which recently opened at 7241 Lemont Road.,  the village offered to rebate 37.5 percent of that store’s sales tax for 10 years to operate the Lemon Tree.

Click here to visit the Lemon Tree Grocer fan site on Facebook.

22 Responses to “A slice of the Lemon Tree”
  1. Bob LeMay 20 April 2010 at 8:55 am #

    Ummm. What exactly is the point of the donations? To overcome the unexpected costs of building permits and signage variances? Or to pay for “Shaun and I … doing research for over a month in Colorado, California, Arizona, Dallas and New York City to fine-tune the Lemon Tree project”?

    Sorry, but the Lemon Tree is a business enterprise, not a charity. While I certainly don’t object to people donating money so they can see their name on some artwork, the owners have already gotten concessions from the village that other businesses didn’t get.

    So while they may be a little short on money, it seems to me what the owners DON’T lack is chutzpah!

  2. John Schofield 20 April 2010 at 10:18 am #

    Mr. Canning, I’d make a FAIR deal, like five $10 monthly coupons good over five months, or your commitment to donate $50 in groceries to the local food bank. But another subsidy on top of what the Village has already given Lemon Tree… ha ha ha!

  3. T.Karam 20 April 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    I am so excited to have a local grocery store in our downtown area. Lemon Tree is going to add a great element of that hometown feel that Downers residents seem to be attracted to.

    As for the “Roots” idea…these are hard economical times that call for out of the box thinking!

  4. tim canning 21 April 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    Thank you all for sharing your comments within the blog and note that we are listening to them all. I would like to address a few of the notes made thus far as our team believes in transparency and honesty within our business:

    Mr. LeMay,
    Thank you for your comments. We have paid out of pocket for research and development during all stages of the Lemon Tree Project. Shaun Black and I have risked an abundance of personal capitol in sore economic times to open the Lemon Tree Grocer in Downtown Downers Grove. We believe in our community and that is why we are asking for assistance.

    Thus far we have not received any assistance from the village. The Village put together an aggressive plan to attract a new business that it believes Downers Grove wants and needs. The plan will only subsidize our rent a small fraction and assistance in the form a rebate will only occur after the business has been successfully open for three months. We are currently challenged to get to that 3 month window as business start-up costs are overwhelming. We believe this will be an attractive way for people to become part of our store and pitch in.

    We are committed to supporting Downers Grover. The Lemon Tree Grocer is currently sponsoring three Downers Grove Little League teams, the Downer’s YMCA, we were successfull in fundraising for two different local schools, and we are members of the Downers Grove Chamber of Commerce. We strive to be a fixture in our community and we hope that our community supports us in return.

    Mr. Schofield,

    Thank you for your suggestion. I agree all anyone needs is another subsidy. The Lemon Tree is giving out gift certificates and invitations to our grand opening gala to Lemon Tree donors. All the information is provided on “the roots” page of our website. http://www.lemontreegrocer.com

    T. Karam,

    Tim Canning

  5. Meat 21 April 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    Out of the box, yes. Out of my wallet, not so much.

    Regardless, I will be a frequent patron.

  6. George Swimmer 22 April 2010 at 7:00 am #

    Good luck. I look forward to shopping in your store. Downtown DG is a neat place to shop, eat, live, visit, and have fun. Your store will be a welcome addition. The only twist I would make, is that any monies received for the inscribing of names will be donated to a local food panty.

  7. Midway117 22 April 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    Wait a minute: these guys are getting a ten-year tax rebate from the village and they still don’t have the cash to open? And they want money from me before they can even give me a product in return? Not only am I re-thinking shopping at Lemon Tree, but I am re-thinking shopping at Michael’s.

  8. DGdude 22 April 2010 at 7:22 pm #

    Does seem odd to need more start up capital with such attractive tax incentives. Oh well…I guess even business’s think the bail outs start right from the get go.

  9. Sideline Observer 22 April 2010 at 8:10 pm #

    You mean Downers will rebate 37.5% of the Village sales tax right? They can’t give state taxes back as a rebate. There’s a big difference.

    Agreed with Meat on this one; from what I’ve read mainly here, bring it on Mr. Canning. You will have my trade on a regular basis.

  10. DGdude 22 April 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    wonder if Michaels is not doing the business they thought it would so now they need some extra start up cap!

    Editor’s note: No reason to believe that at all, dude. Have you tried their chicken salad? This from someone who never eats, much less buys, the stuff. Excellent!

  11. Mark Thoman 23 April 2010 at 6:23 am #

    SO- yes, that comes from local sales tax.

    Lemon Tree will be an great addition to downtown.

  12. DGDAD 23 April 2010 at 9:45 am #

    Grocery stores operate on VERY thin margins. Rent for real estate is a top variable. The rent in our downtown is higher than what a grocer would normally pay. But for the incentive….the grocer does not come to our downtown. Having a grocer in our downtown appeared to be a top priority for leadership of our Village. I also believe resident feedback helped them determine that priority. Common ownership with Michaels helped make the whole subsidy work as well.

    I would be happy to “donate” to the store. I believe the reciept for my donation would be called a stock certificate or “K-1”.

  13. Perry S. 23 April 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    I was disappointed that Michael’s does not carry the small pouches of instant mashed potatoes, the kind you mix with 2 cups of water and microwave for 4 minutes. They had bigger boxes that you could use again and again, but I like the smaller pouches. Use it, toss the wrapper, and you’re done with it. I like the convenience and lack of clutter.

  14. Debbie Drews 23 April 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    When I read the article with them asking for money I was like you have GOT to be kidding! Are they going to refund it all when they realize a profit or get their tax rebate? I doubt it!

    I have a daughter getting ready to start applying to colleges.. I could use some extra money? Will they open their personal checkbooks for me? Again, I doubt it… sorry but this is just wrong on many levels! When you open a business or want to start a business, it’s not up to me to fund it – I like the stock certificate idea! Give me 200 shares for my $50!

  15. T.Karam 24 April 2010 at 7:12 pm #

    A few thoughts to those who are opposed to the “Roots” program. First only those who want to need donate,next our library has a large budget funded by Downers tax payers yet they have a “step” program in order to obtain more funds.Finally,what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I agree that the Village has gone up and beyond to get this grocery store up and running,but for very good reason. Filling that open space brings in more real estate taxes, sales taxes, and best of all helps bring in more retailers to our central business district which of course adds to the tax base. I hope that Downers continues to help businesses get off the ground and become a greater community!I also hope to see more out of the box thinking by businesses to overcome this hard economic time.

  16. DGMom 24 April 2010 at 7:30 pm #

    Hey Folks!!… How about relaxing a bit! I don’t see these guys saying, “YOU MUST help us out with your donations!”
    What I see is an opportunity for anyone who is INTERESTED in getting on board with a very unique concept – to share in or participate in the vision.

    This is no different than the “bricks” in front of DG North H.S. or a tree or bench dedicated to, or in support of a loved one at a local park. It’s an opportunity to get on board with what appears to be a great and long awaited business idea in our community!

    It’s my understanding that these two young entrepreneurs could have chosen any number of communities to build this store in — but they loved our town! Thanks Mr. Canning & Mr. Black – we share your vision with this great place to live and raise a family, and we love it too!

    It’s my understanding that there are always unexpected expenses in building something from the ground up…. anyone out there put an addition on your house? Build a new house? Remodel a kitchen? Were there any unexpected expenses you weren’t counting on?

    This store is for US – and if it works well for us… I’m sure at some point they will realize a profit, but anyone who knows what new businesses cost, understand that profit is rarely realized in the first year or two.

    Mr. Black & Mr. Canning have made every effort to tell our community that they are thrilled to be here and they are wanting to know what they can do to serve us best.
    Donate if you feel there cause for fresh wholesome foods that are locally grown and in the best effort to make our families lives and surrounding communities thrive.
    If you just want to whine about “what about me???” … “what about my hard earned $$?”…”What are they going to do for me???”… then just ignore their gentle but straightforward asking for support. It’s a free country – no one is demanding you support your local community.
    I applaud them however, for supporting ours – when they could have gone to 15 to 20 other small towns in the Western Suburbs.

  17. Debbie Drews 24 April 2010 at 11:17 pm #

    I love the anonymous people “defending” the cause… I will listen to you more if you step up and sign your name.

    This is totally, utterly, NOTHING like the library or the schools. This is a PRIVATE enterpreneur asking me a private citizen for money. So if I want to open a store in DG and I can’t afford, DGMOM, you’ll help me out! Let me know ’cause I have a few ideas! And I take offense at your use of the word “whine”. I was not whining, I was stating an opinion – just like you did.. so again, step up and use your real name and maybe I will listen to what you have to say… I am glad they came here, too, but they CHOSE to come here (through a really good incentive program!) and they CHOSE to be self-employed. The Park District and the schools do not make a profit or put money into their own pockets with my dollars – apples and oranges..

  18. DGMom 26 April 2010 at 8:55 am #

    Hey Deb… why all the anger?
    Apparently you did listen…. with or without my name attached. — anyway, no worries Deb – you don’t know me, because I don’t know you. Names are superfluous to intelligent discussion – and not the issue at all.

    I don’t recall hearing that these guys are doing a door to door campaign but perhaps I missed something? – because they came and asked YOU “a private citizen” for YOUR money?
    Please don’t confuse an opportunity to contribute “if you CHOOSE” – with a demand that you pay them fifty dollars so they can get their store open. And Deb, you’ll note – my piece did not start out saying “Hey Deb Drews!”…. so if you took offense to my use of words, that”s your choice.

    As for the topic at hand… They did choose to come to DG – with incentives as part of the package. However, I doubt that was the only thing that attracted them to our town. Any township that would want to attract a business like theirs, would likely offer them incentives such as tax breaks, deferrments, etc. – it’s what is done when a township wants to bring new businesses/jobs/future revenues/ growth and development to the area.

    Thriving businesses not only enhance the area, bring up property values, attract other new business (and there is a lot of retail to fill downtown), but add to the general sense of well being and pride of a community, and overall make our town a better place to work, play, and raise a family.

    I for one will be supporting the Lemon Tree. I will be proud to see my name on the wall and know that I believe in something that looks extremely positive and I invested in it! Look for Kat McNamara on the wall (just for you Deb!) 🙂

  19. Perry S. 26 April 2010 at 12:51 pm #

    Michael’s had a great deal on rotisserie chickens last week – $2.99 for a whole chicken. It was very good, but they ran out and I could only get one when I wanted two. Also, as I mentioned earlier, they don’t carry the mashed potatoes I like. If you’re having rotisserie chicken you need spuds.

    The samosas at the deli were excellent, 79 cents for a crispy, spicy delight, but I prefer Japanese sushi to the sushi they had.

  20. Todd Krause 26 April 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    I’m all for supporting local small businesses but this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve every heard of. I agree with what John Schofield said at the top. If your going to ask for money, it should have value. You can make the argument, by opening a business in Downers Grove they are adding value to the community but this is a commercial enterprise and by no means is the same as the service the schools or libraries offer us. If you really want to give back to the community, find a local charity and give to them.
    If you want to support small business in Downers Grove, avoid stores that are based in Arkansas and Minnesota and shop at locally owned grocers. It would have been better for them to start a shop local campaign and ask for a larger portion of your monthly grocery bill than getting free money.
    Personally, I think they would be do better by offering a pre-opening club membership. Members receive 10% rebate at the end of the year of their total grocery bill. Even members didn’t spend over $500, there was at least the opportunity to add value.
    For those who actually gave money to the Lemon Tree, I think you’re getting the sour end of the deal. :p

  21. DGdude 26 April 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    It’s sad that a business needs to ask for help even before they are open. I give the Lemon tree a year!

  22. Jennifer 6 May 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    Dear Lemon Tree- Gabby’s Gifts can’t wait until you open and welcome to the neighborhood! We think you will be a great addition to our town. As small business owners, we completely understand the hardships of opening up a business. Your heart and soul goes into every aspect of the business and sometimes times are tough. We hope everything worked out for you and we can’t wait to shop at your store!