BATAVIA – It was a tough decision to start planning the spring move of Pal Joey’s restaurant from its riverside perch to a new home across town in the former Golden Corral at Randall Road and Main Street in Batavia, co-owner John Hamel said, citing a prohibitive rent increase as the impetus.
It was in 2012 that the Batavia resident who, along with business partner Greg Miller, owns the original Pal Joey’s on Route 38 in West Chicago, decided to launch the second location at 31 N. River St., Batavia.
“It’s with a heavy heart that we do this,” Hamel said. “My intention was to be in downtown Batavia as long as I owned Pal Joey’s. The increase in the rent [was] so substantial here that it didn’t make sense. There’s no way the business could sustain itself.”
The Golden Corral space, although 2,000 square feet smaller than the 12,000-square-foot current location, will accommodate up to about 40 more patrons for a total of close to 300, said Hamel, noting he was told traffic along Randall Road is estimated at 60,000 cars a day, exponentially more than his River Street spot just north of Wilson Street. He anticipates having the same number of employees, between 50 and 75.
The makeover of Golden Corral will include adding a bar and a few private dining rooms for parties as part of an inviting family restaurant, Hamel said. The kitchen will be revamped to be more efficient, and he is planning a patio to seat about 60.
Pal Joey’s will operate until about April 28, the month its lease ends, and is expected to open a few days later at 2030 Main St., Batavia. Hamel said he has signed a rental agreement with an option to buy.
He said what he’ll miss the most is the riverside patio open about half the year, but vulnerable to unpredictable weather conditions.
He said he will not miss the issues that come with an aging limestone building, where rains have meant wet interior walls around the bar.
He said he received word in September of rental increases for the property from landlord River Street Buildings in Batavia.
He described the initial proposal as entailing a 45 percent rent increase, as well as added costs for common area maintenance and building repairs, plus six months of rent for the use of the patio. Hamel said the three-year lease also included periodic rent hikes.
Hamel said River Street Buildings came up with an 8 percent or 10 percent discount compromise, but left other costs in place.
“It just doesn’t work out for what we’re doing,” he said. “Hopefully, people will understand it wasn’t our first plan to move out of downtown.”
He said between the future development of the One Washington Place apartments, the strong bicycle traffic and promotional efforts by Batavia MainStreet and Batavia Chamber of Commerce, “the downtown should be fine.”
Hamel recently received the Chamber’s Donna Dallesasse Award recognizing both his business and charitable work on behalf of the community. He said he expects the commitment to giving back to continue at the new location.
He owns Bar Evolution a few doors to the south of the restaurant and notes it is staying put.
River Street Buildings’ manager and owner is Mary Harris.
“We’re sorry to hear Pal Joey’s is leaving, and we wish them the very best,” Harris said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to get an amazing new restaurant in this space. River Street is developing into a great area and a great venue for the city of Batavia. With Shodeen’s new development coming and a new restaurant with a new vibe in the space, it will be exciting and beneficial for all.”
In the meantime, Hamel wants Pal Joey’s fans to know they have a few months to enjoy the existing location until the reimagined new place is unveiled.
Pal Joey’s is the latest restaurant at the riverside site that was home to Fox’s on the River, preceded by Shawn Michael’s Bistro, Venice Tavern and Charlie Fox’s Pizzeria. When it opened, Pal Joey’s had received a $25,000 downtown improvement grant and a loan of up to $75,000 to be repaid within five years from the city of Batavia. In 2001, Hamel and Miller took over ownership of Pal Joey’s in West Chicago, originally launched in 1973.