RANTOUL — Eric Thompson’s original idea was to open a "barbecue joint" in Rantoul. But when he saw the building that would house his new eatery, he knew he "had to do more."
ET’s Downtown Rantoul was scheduled to have a "soft opening" at 107 E. Sangamon Ave. in downtown Rantoul by the end of this week, but that had to be postponed.
At some point, ET’s will hold a grand opening.
The 53-year-old Thompson is no stranger to the area culinary scene.
He and several partners bought The Caddyshack lounge from the existing owner and ran it for seven years. He also reopened the 102 Lounge in Paxton and bought The Long Branch in Gifford and ran it for several years.
All of this after the northern Iowa native worked for six years locally in the insurance business. Most recently he had been in a business that provided chefs and food services for fraternities and sororities throughout the country.
With a restaurant name like ET’s, Thompson originally thought about a slogan of "ET: The Food is out of this World," but he said with a laugh that friends and family "kind of shut that down."
The new restaurant — located in the building that formerly housed C&C Kitchen — will offer a large assortment of home-cooked foods.
"We’ve got a great kitchen upstairs," Thompson said. "We’ll have desserts, fresh soups and salads, specialty burgers, sandwiches. We’ll have some fun with appetizers and will have specials."
Thompson said ET’s will also give a nod to Rantoul history. Several historical photos of the community and Chanute Air Force Base hang on the east wall.
Employee Leigh Ogburn, who did a lot of research on the photos with the help of Steve Douglas and Jim Cheek of the Rantoul Historical Society, said one photo shows an Air Force parachutist whose parachute became tangled up in the back of an airplane.
He was in the predicament for at least 30 minutes before a knife was lowered down to him, allowing him to cut the chute free and use his reserve chute to float back down to earth.
"Eventually there will be stories to go along with all the photos," Thompson said, adding that some of the photos were donated by local residents.
While the downstairs of the restaurant will be a family-friendly atmosphere, a new bar has been installed upstairs.
"It won’t be a huge bar," Thompson said. "It will have TVs, but we don’t want it to be a sports bar."
Thompson said the entire ET staff will be new, although some have restaurant experience.
"But it’s the first time we’ll be working as a group," thus at some point a soft opening will be held. "So I want to take a little time so we can get the kinks worked out."
The business will employ 15, with eight of them full time.
In the beginning, ET’s Downtown Rantoul will be open for lunch and dinner "with no real set hours," Thompson said.
"If I’m here, I’ll cook. We will do a Sunday brunch that will probably start at (9 or 10 a.m.)."