Cubanito Express (above) opened in January at 3222 Harlem Ave. in Riverside, quickly attracting a loyal following. Looking to accommodate more diners, the owners have now won a village grant to convert a landscaped section of public land next to the building along Herrick Road (below) into an outdoor seating area with room for 32 diners. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

A restaurant on Harlem Avenue in Riverside is in line to receive a village grant of roughly $10,000 to build an outdoor dining area to accommodate the eatery’s growing clientele.

On July 7, Riverside trustees voted unanimously to award the owners of Cubanito Express, 3222 Harlem Ave., a reimbursement deal that will cover the entire cost of making the improvement on a small strip of public right-of-way around the corner from the restaurant along Herrick Road.

“I really appreciate the opportunity you guys have brought us, and all the support from the residents of Riverside,” said Cesar Ambrocio, one of four brothers who are partners in the restaurant, which specializes in Cuban cuisine.

“This is something that we were thinking, me and my brothers, to maybe grow a little bit more and also to help the view of Harlem,” Ambrocio told trustees at their July 7 meeting. “I think it’s something that will help Harlem Avenue.”

The owners have proposed paving the roughly 500-square-foot area where they plan on putting eight tables with enough seating for 32 diners. Right now the space is occupied by bushes.

Looking to accommodate more diners, the owners of Cubanito Express have now won a village grant to convert a landscaped section of public land next to the building along Herrick Road (below left) into an outdoor seating area with room for 32 diners. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

The dining space would be a boon for the restaurant, which opened in January and has little in the way of indoor dining space. For decades the small storefront housed a Chinese takeout restaurant, which closed in 2019.

While the strip of land along Herrick Road next to the building where the dining area will be appears to be private property, it is actually public. The new outdoor dining area, which will be separated from the public sidewalk by a 4.5-foot-tall black aluminum fence, also won’t impact the width of the existing sidewalk.

The dining area would be situated about 20 to 25 feet from the Harlem/Herrick corner and the entrance to the seating area would be on the side facing Herrick Road.

In response to a question from Trustee Edward Hannon about whether the plans for an outdoor dining area had been shared with residential neighbors immediately to the west, it appeared clear that they hadn’t. However, Village President Joseph Ballerine said the improvement would be a welcome change to what’s there now.

“It’s in disrepair at best, so it’d definitely be an improvement to what’s there now, for sure, and also spark some interest on Harlem Avenue,” Ballerine said.

Attached to the memo included in the July 7 village board meeting packet were photos showing examples of the furniture, pavers and fencing the Ambrocios were contemplating, but no materials have yet been purchased.

Assistant Village Manager Ashley Monroe, in that memo, stated the proposal was very similar to the outdoor dining area constructed for The Chew Chew in downtown Riverside.

Trustee Doug Pollock suggested, with board members agreeing, that their approval of the project also be contingent on the materials being consistent with the examples provided to the village board for their approval.

Because Cubanito Express lies within Harlem Avenue Business District No. 2, the money for reimbursing the owners will come from the business district reserve, funded by a 1-percent business district sales tax.

The owners will be reimbursed for the cost of the improvement after submitting receipts to the village for the completed project.

According to Monroe, the total amount of the reimbursement isn’t known yet, since the work hasn’t been done, but it needs to reflect the information on which trustees based their approval. Monroe’s memo estimated the project, including the building permit, at $9,980.

“Staff was granted authority to approve reimbursements for the project based upon the information provided to the board,” Monroe said. “If there is a significant change to the project or the amount requested exceeds what was approved, I anticipate that we would return to the board for approval of those changes.”