• Esther Dairiam
  • The storefront that will become Read It and Eat

Back in 2012, Esther Dairiam took a culinary tour of France. There was food. There was wine. And there was Librairie Gourmande, a bookstore in Paris that stocked only books about food and cooking. Dairiam, a management consultant who doesn’t cook much but loves to eat, was charmed by the concept. She wondered if it would be possible to open a similar shop in Chicago.

She had no previous experience in bookselling, so she attended a workshop on bookstore operations with the independent bookstore consultants Paz & Associates. She looked into financial planning. She developed a business plan. She lined up financing. She thought about other things that would lure customers into the store. She began investigating possible locations. And she came up with a name.

And now Read It and Eat is slated to open April 1 at 2142 N. Halsted in Lincoln Park.

“The concept is a cookbook store with events and demonstrations,” Dairiam explains. “It’s going to carry a ton of books about cooking and food, from traditional cookbooks to food history to reference books and encyclopedias. The events will range from author signings to classes, but everything will be tied to books. A class on preservatives will feature books on preservatives.”

Although her own favorite cookbook inspired her to go out and buy a paella pan (as yet unused), Dairiam won’t be selling kitchen equipment, at least not at first.

The space, a former yogurt store, is 1,950 square feet. One side will be given over to books. (Dairiam estimates she’ll carry about 4,000 volumes; about three quarters of those will be unique titles, while the rest will be duplicates.) The other will be a working kitchen for classes. It will be large enough to contain 30 people for a demonstration, or 20 for a more hands-on session.

Dairiam chose the location on Halsted, she says, “because I was looking for an area that was vibrant with a lot of foot traffic and compatible businesses.” She declines to discuss her financing, but says she’s weighed the risks. “Any business is a risk, but I also know that research, a good business plan, and a good concept will make it a success. It’s risky, but I put a lot of good work into it and am confident it will succeed.”