BLOOMINGTON — In a year full of big Twin City restaurant news, one eatery took the cake.
Portillo's, the Chicago-based eatery that Normal Mayor Chris Koos said has "the hot dog everybody wants," announced in April it would come to Normal, and the appetite for updates on the restaurant hasn't been sated since.
The restaurant is still slated to open in August at 202 Landmark Drive, the former site of a Motel 6, with construction imminent. It is expected to employ 150; serve beer on tap; and have a double drive-thru lane, seating for 200 inside and 50 outside and a 1920s gangster theme.
"We would say the process is going very well," said Nick Scarpino, vice president of marketing and public relations for Portillo's. "We appreciate the support we've received from Normal and are looking forward to opening soon."
Meanwhile, Twin City residents lost some beloved restaurants, including the Parkview Food & Pub at the northwest corner of Miller Park.
The historic restaurant, formerly known as the Parkview Inn, closed after an Oct. 21 fire but is expected to reopen with a new building this summer.
“I’m hopeful this month we’ll break ground,” owner Rick McCormick told The Pantagraph. “I’m shooting for beginning of June, first part of July (to open). I want to be open for the Fourth (of July holiday).”
McCormick called the fire "the worst day of my life" but said it showed him how much the Twin Cities value his restaurant.
“I took it for granted that we’d been there so long it wasn’t a big deal. ... People who I don't know come up to me all the time to say they’re sorry and can’t wait for us to rebuild," he said. “I can’t wait to get the building finished and let everybody socialize and hang out there again.”
Several local restaurants that came into being during the year are still building their followings. One of those is Old Bank Restaurant & Bar, which opened in August at 201 E. Center St. in downtown LeRoy.
Epiphany Farms Hospitality Group opened the eatery, the latest of a series in the historic former LeRoy State Bank, and company CEO and Director of Operations Ken Myszka said it's already feeling like a community institution.
“Everyone was kind of doubting us doing a restaurant in LeRoy, but I think LeRoy is an amazing town with a ton of potential, and the space has a ton of potential. LeRoy citizens are coming out often, and on the weekends we have tons of out-of-town business too,” he said.
That's helped the staff grow from 18 to 30, and the restaurant will soon have expanded hours as well.
“Starting on Easter (April 16) we’re going to have a brunch menu and be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays,” Myszka said. The restaurant is now open 3 to 9 p.m. Sundays. “We have plans on opening up on Tuesdays as well, but we’re probably not going to do that until next winter.”
He said the restaurant is also "doing a little renovation already on the patio to give it a little more of a windbreak and extend hours out there.”
“I think things are going really well. I’m really happy with it,” Myszka said.
Several other new restaurants came to town over the past year, including:
• A combined Chipotle and Blaze Pizza at 1601 E. College Ave., Normal. The building is one of several Chipotle Mexican restaurants in the Twin Cities but the first downstate location for Blaze, a custom artisanal pizza chain.
• A second Super J&J Fish and Chicken at 1102 N. Hershey Road. Super J&J Fish and Chicken was founded in Chicago in 1989 and opened in Bloomington in 2012; in addition to fish and chicken, the menu features fries, spaghetti, wings, coleslaw and bread.
Restaurants coming to Bloomington-Normal this year in addition to Portillo's include:
• Slim Chickens, an Arkansas-based restaurant chain that offers southern-inspired chicken and blues music. The chain is expected to to open in March at 1515 N. Veterans Parkway, Bloomington, between La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries and FedEx, just south of General Electric Road.
• The Burger Joint and Oberweis Ice Cream and Dairy Store, a two-part restaurant at the former Carlos O’Kelly’s at 2105 N. Veterans Parkway. The restaurant is set to offer shakes, sundaes and homemade waffle cones from Oberweis and chicken sandwiches, chicken tenders, hot dogs, fries and patty melts from The Burger Joint.
• Ivy Lane Bakery will open in mid-April at 405 N. Main St. in downtown Bloomington at the site of the former Cravin' Donuts, which closed in February. The bakery's hours have not been set, but the store will be open Tuesday through Saturday offering cookies, scones, muffins, coffee and hot tea.
Other eateries that closed during the past year included:
• Aleta Jane's Cafe, a longtime breakfast-lunch cafe in southwest Bloomington at 803 Morrissey Drive, closed in April.
• Beningo's, which closed at 610 W. Chestnut after 46 years. The landmark Italian eatery in west Bloomington was staffed by four generations of the Beningo family. The restaurant will get new life, however, as Crawford's Corner Pub.
• Smashburger, a fast-casual burger and sandwich chain that shut down its location at 1401 N. Veterans Parkway, Bloomington, in January.
• Lone Star Steakhouse, 903 IAA Drive, Bloomington, closed in January.
Other major restaurant news included:
• The Garden of Paradise at 1412 E. Empire St., Bloomington, re-opened in October after a long legal fight.
In May, Hani Alsaqri and his cousin who owns the business, Mohammad Abusager — also known as Mike Sager — settled a lawsuit filed by Sager's ex-wife, Mariam Abusager. She claimed she was the rightful owner of the restaurant she and Sager purchased in 1990.
• The Grand Cafe changing ownership. Twin City real estate agent Jimmy Mapugay and his wife, Kelly, are partnering with Adrian Daluz to purchase the Chinese-American restaurant from Ike Chiu, a fourth-generation family member that has operated the restaurant at 615 N. Main St., Bloomington.
• A new family partnership took over ownership of the McDonald’s restaurants in and near Bloomington-Normal previously owned and operated by Bob and Julie Dobski.
The Millan and Petro families, who have owned and operated five other McDonald’s restaurants in Central Illinois since 1989, took on the eight Twin City McDonald’s, one in McLean and one in Gibson City, effective Jan. 3.
The Dobskis announced in September they would retire and sell the locations.