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Evanston opens second dispensary on Chicago border


Evanston has opened its second marijuana dispensary in partnership with OKAY Cannabis and West Town Bakery on the city’s south end, at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Howard Street.

The new store houses two businesses behind the bakery, including OKAY, which offers breakfast foods, sandwiches and other treats, as well as its distinctive cake balls. None of the products in the bakery contain marijuana, but those interested can purchase these products from the dispensary.

A vibrant neon sign on the back wall of the bakery marks the dispensary’s entrance.

The entrance to OKAY Dispensary is located behind the back wall of West Town Bakery in South Evanston.

OKAY CEO Ameya Pawar cut the ribbon and officially opened the third tandem location with West Town. Other locations include Chicago’s West Town neighborhood and Wheeling.

The business name comes from Pawar’s idea that, just like you don’t have to enjoy alcohol to go to a restaurant or bar, you don’t have to use marijuana to enjoy the place.

“You’re okay, we’re okay, and most importantly, you’re okay here,” he said. “Adding hospitality creates space for new cannabis users and meets them where they are.”

Evanston’s 8th Ward Councilman Devon Reid was on hand during the ribbon cutting and expressed his excitement for the city to host another dispensary whose taxes will be used to fund the city’s reparations efforts.

“I’m really excited about this,” Reid said, wearing a woven, striped Baja hoodie that’s been referred to as a “drug rug” on many sites that sell it. “Not just because I look like the type of person who would start the day with pot and pastries.”

Other revenue streams for the fund include $1 million annually from the city’s property transfer tax and private donations for the next 10 years. Exact revenues from the 3% recreational marijuana tax are not available because state law requires a minimum number of dispensaries to contribute before releasing information to protect their privacy.

Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss, who attended the ribbon cutting, said the business, which is working with the state on a program to hire formerly incarcerated people, is helping combat the negative effects of the war on drugs from every angle.

The work is one aspect of the ongoing One Howard Street plan between Evanston and the Rogers Park Business Alliance to revitalize the area and is located steps from Howard L Station. Evanston City Council adopted the plan at its Feb. 12 meeting.

Pawar hopes the success of partnerships like OKAY and West Town can serve as a blueprint for other businesses looking to tap into the cannabis industry and grow with it. He noted the importance of opening a minority-owned business during Black History Month, where profits would be used to improve the lives of Evanston’s Black residents and reverse some of the historical harms inflicted against them.

“Profit and purpose do not have to be at odds with each other,” Pawar said.

According to Pawar, Chicagoland could become the Napa marijuana Valley if steps are taken to combine recreational marijuana with the region’s food tourism scene. He said he would love to see the integration of fine dining and cannabis.

To achieve this, Pawar forged a partnership between the cannabis industry, economic development agency World Business Chicago and Choose Chicago, which manages the city’s tourism. The company hopes to open 3-4 more locations as it grows.

“This is an incredible opportunity to take something and turn the war on drugs upside down,” he said. “We are ready and willing to do this.”

The bakery opens at 7 am every day and closes at 9 pm from Monday to Thursday, at 10 pm on Friday and Saturday, and at 8 pm on Sunday. The dispensary opens at 9am every day and closes next to the bakery.


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