The recently opened $6 million-plus Texas Roadhouse has been the talk of Bloomington-Normal since its coming was announced almost two years ago.
However, 14 years ago, B-N came that close to having a Texas Roadhouse, Rod Burchett owner/operator of Baxters American Grille in Bloomington and Champaign, recently told me.
Rod, who worked for TXRH at the time, said the TXRH real estate people had selected a site in front of Menards, the northeast corner of the intersection of Shepard Road and Veterans Parkway in Normal. According to Rod, owner Kent Taylor would always be the one to give final approval for a new location so when he came to B-N to check out the proposed location, he said no and gave it a thumbs down. Rod said Taylor was looking for a location closer to the East Empire Street and Veterans Parkway intersection.
Rod was later told TXRH also had found two areas in the Eastland Mall parking lots as suitable locations but an agreement could not be reached with the mall on either space. One site is the current location of Outback Steakhouse, according to Rod.
Rod worked for TXRH for four years and at one time was managing partner of the Decatur store with some assurances, 14 years ago, of being the managing partner of the new B-N store. He took over Baxters American Grille on East Empire Street in 2010 and opened the Champaign Baxters in 2016.
From Larry’s notebook
• ANNIE’S EATS CARRYOUT & CATERING — Congratulations to Ann and Kenny Clem on buying their current location at 606 N. Clinton. Ann told me they opened Annie’s Eats three years ago, and it has been so successful that they decided to buy the building. Kenny with his Brandin’ Iron BBQ plus Ann and her side dishes successfully competed on the Kansas City Barbecue Society summer circuit for six years.
• JERSEY MIKE’S SUBS — The first B-N Jersey Mike’s recently opened at 305 N. Veterans Parkway, Bloomington. It is the south endcap of the building that also houses Chipotle Mexican Grill and AT&T.
• THEO’S MICROCREAMERY ICE CREAM SHOP — Mindy and Aaron Theobald are making their own ice cream at Theo’s in uptown Normal, and Mindy recently told me business is fantastic since they converted their Emack & Bolio’s over the winter and reopened as Theo’s this spring. They added a kitchen, a 24-quart batch ice cream maker and a blast freezer. Plus, they refurbished the dining area with a new floor, new countertops, different décor and new furniture.
• LOS POTRILLOS — Recently reopened after a $150,000 major remodel of the store on Landmark Drive in Normal. The remodel included completely redoing the restrooms, new floor and walls in the kitchen, new plumbing and an installation of an exterior 2,000-gallon underground grease trap.
• DOMINO’S PIZZA — The fourth B-N location is now under construction at 1514 W. Market St., the former longtime location of Yen Ching Express. The plan is to open the Domino’s Pizza Theater by the end of the year.
A LARRY FAVORITE MENU ITEM — The anchovies at Lucca Grill. When I ask for the anchovies on the side for our A La Baldini pizza, Kay always informs the server — his side of the table, not his side of the pizza.
20 Bloomington-Normal restaurants we wish would come back
Gil’s Country Inn
Gil’s Country Inn, a longtime, family-owned restaurant in Minier, closed in 2013 after the economy took its toll. The restaurant was particularly known for its fried chicken.
Lancaster’s Fine Dining, 513 N. Main St., a downtown Bloomington mainstay for nearly 16 years, closed its doors in August 2014. A struggling economy and the upscale restaurant’s location in a neighborhood of bars were factors.
Bennigan’s, which billed itself as an “Irish American Grill & Tavern” closed its Normal location in July 2008 after the chain filed for bankruptcy. The eatery, 115 S. Veterans Parkway, was replaced by Wild Berries, which was later closed and razed. Owner Tartan Realty Group of Chicago now plans to build a four-unit development at the site.
Lox, Stock & Bagel
Lox, Stock & Bagel closed in May 2004 after 22 years at Normal’s College Hills Mall, in tandem with the mall’s conversion to the Shoppes at College Hills.
Zorbas, popular for serving Greek food, gyros and breakfast, closed in 2015 after its location at 603 Dale St., Normal, was sold to a developer. The eatery first opened in 1983 around the corner at 707 S. Main St.
The historic Grand Hotel, 1201 E. Emerson St., Bloomington, once served as a winter training quarters for a number of circus acts and was converted into a restaurant in 1937. The property was foreclosed upon by Pontiac National Bank in 2001, sold in 2002 and demolished a few months later.
Mr. Quick Drive-In
The Mr. Quick restaurant at Clinton and Washington streets had its grand opening in January 1966, with burgers starting at 15 cents and coffee for a dime a cup. The restaurant closed in 2001 and the city of Bloomington later bought the site and razed the building so it could widen the intersection.
Chicago Style Pizzeria
Chicago Style Pizzeria, 1500 E. Empire St., Bloomington, closed in 2015 after 22 years in business when owners Abe and Ruth Taha (Abe is pictured above) decided to retire.
Shannon’s Federal Café
Shannon’s Federal Cafe, 105 W. Front St., opened in 1997 after its owners took over the historic Federal Cafe in downtown Bloomington, which closed two years earlier. Shannon’s closed in 2004 because the owners also ran Shannon’s Five Star Restaurant, and the demands of both businesses were too much.
Damon’s – The Place for Ribs opened in 1995 at 1701 Fort Jesse Road, Normal. The eatery closed in 2006 after business had declined; the site is now a CVS pharmacy.
Australian-themed Ned Kelly’s Steakhouse opened in May 1992 in what was the former location of Bob Knapp’s in the Brandtville Center (now known as Morrissey Crossing). It closed in August 2007 after the company’s four Central Illinois locations were unable to compete with bigger chains.
Arnie’s was a popular Twin City eatery for 25 years. Located at the Bloomington airport terminal, it closed in 2003, shortly after the Central Illinois Regional Airport moved to its current location about a mile east. A subsequent restaurant, Arnie’s Etc., was open for about a year in the former terminal building, until it closed in 2005.
Diamond Dave’s, a mainstay at the former College Hills Mall for 21 years, closed its doors in June 2004 in tandem with the gutting of the mall to create what is now the Shoppes at College Hills.
Jerry’s Grille opened in 1999 in Bloomington’s Brandtville shopping center, taking over the spot used by another eatery, Henry Wellington. It closed it 2005 and then became Goodfellas, which also closed.
After 33 years in the heart of Normal, Golden West closed in 2002, after the owners received a surprise offer for the site and decided it was time to sell. The building, 712 S, Kingsley St., was later resold to Tartan Realty and demolished in 2003.
After eight years at 407 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington, Ming’s closed in 2012. The eatery was facing foreclosure at the time.
The former Central Station restaurant in downtown Bloomington, once a firehouse in days gone by, is now home to Epiphany Farms Restaurant and Anju Above.
Chevys Fresh Mex
Chevys Fresh Mex, 704 S. Eldorado Road, Bloomington, closed in 2011 after being open nearly nine years. The site has also been home to several other restaurants, including a House of Hunan, Shakey’s Pizza and Butterfields.
The Caboose, a historic Bloomington eatery at 608 W. Seminary St., closed without fanfare in February 2012. The restaurant, with several owners and names including Chuck’s Caboose and Barney’s Caboose, had been a west-side fixture for more than 60 years.
Delgado’s, a popular Mexican restaurant at 201 Landmark Drive, Normal, closed in May 2005 after after 24 years in business. It is now the location of Los Potrillos.
Carius, of Bloomington, is a former food program and plan review supervisor for the McLean County Health Department. His Facebook blog, Bloomington-Normal Restaurant Scene, has 28,000 followers.