A new restaurant pays homage to the rich Midwestern farmland and fertile harvests of Lisle's early days, with high hopes that it will yield rich profits. The restaurant, Wheatstack—A Midwestern Eatery & Tap, is part of the Lisle Park District’s River Bend Golf Club. This carefully revamped venue debuted earlier this month, replacing the View Restaurant, which has failed to generate enough revenue to cover expenses since it opened. Director of Parks and Recreation Dan Garvy said he is optimistic that the facility can be turned around.
The restaurant and adjacent facility were built in 2003 to accommodate more social events and create more pro shop space. The Park District paid for the construction with the issuance of an alternative revenue bond in 2002 for just over $2.65 million, Garvy said. To maintain service on the debt, the View needed to generate a little more than $200,000 annually, a feat it did not accomplish. According to records provided by the Park District, the facility has cost the district more than $600,000 since 2008.
“When we first opened the doors, in the original planning of the facility, I honestly don’t think enough due diligence was performed to find out what kind of restaurant would be successful,” said Garvy. “Hindsight being 20/20 and having spent some time with the consultants, I realized when you have an administration that doesn’t know all there is know about a certain industry and is then asked to run a successful operation within that industry, it is going to be an uphill climb.
“We didn’t know what we were,” said Garvy, in reference to the overall concept of the View. “I can’t tell you how many times over the last six or seven years the issue of the restaurant's identity was called into question.”
Park district officials think the restaurant has found its identity. They hired Creative Hospitality Associates, a Chicago consulting company, to give the restaurant a Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmare-style makeover. CHA has changed everything from the name and menu to the décor and marketing strategy of the restaurant, 5900 S. Rt. 53.
The result is a restaurant that features homemade food cooked with homegrown Midwestern ingredients.
The restaurant sits on the site of one of the first farms in Lisle. "It really embraces Midwestern values, it builds on the Lisle tradition," said Garvy.
One of the major focuses of the restaurant is to emphasize sustainable products. Bread is being purchased from in Lisle, and most other food products are being purchased by local and Chicago area distributors.
"Our barbecue sauce base is made by a vendor in Glen Ellyn. Our dumplings are made in Carol Stream," Garvy said. "And as the spring and summer get here, more and more of our produce will be purchased from Illinois and Wisconsin farms. We have some Midwestern wines and beer that complement many of the dishes being served."
Other local businesses assisted the restaurant renovation, such as:
- Dried floral arrangements: , Main Street, Lisle;
- Carpet: DeSitter Flooring, Steve DeSitter, Lisle resident and Park District fitness center member;
- Interior Design Services: Janice Connolly, subcontractor of Creative Hospitality Associates, Lisle resident; and
- Painting: R.F. Leone Company, Lisle business.
Including CHA’s fee and the purchase of kitchen equipment, seating, lighting, carpet, painting and signage, the renovation has cost the Park District an additional $130,500—an investment Garvy says was necessary.
“I am trying to be conservative. Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Garvy said. “Best case scenario is that a year from now we have made the bond payment and covered all our expenses."
One problem Garvy admits will be a challenging one when attempting to bring the restaurant into the black.
"It’s an investment and we know we have been criticized for spending money on a facility that loses money,” said Garvy. “But it’s not a gamble, we are very confident in the new concept.”
At last week's regular meeting, Garvy told park district commissioners that they would use projections, to be provided by Creative Hospitality Associates, to gauge the restaurant's success in the coming months.
An opponent to the renovation of the View, former Park District Commissioner candidate Thomas Hummel said the Park District should not be in the restaurant business.
“As far as I am concerned, the Park District is just throwing good money after bad,” said Hummel. “The money we could have saved from 2008 alone should have gone to lowering taxes.”
Hummel suggested during his campaign and again recently that the space should be leased to a company that understands how to run a restaurant. While the Park District never issued a request for proposal to take over the facility, Garvy says it was an option the district examined.
“We looked into that a couple different times,” said Garvy. “We gave tours to some private restaurant managers and they say they just couldn’t guarantee that the profits could cover the lease payment.”
Garvy says the initial response from residents who have tried the new menu and enjoyed the service is encouraging.
“People have a lot of choices, but what’s nice about Wheatstack is it's unique,” said Garvy. “The commissioners are thrilled. A lot of folks who have seen the new menu are thrilled. At the end of the day we want that facility to contribute more to the Park District as a whole."