RANTOUL — The Family Table restaurant will open under new management, but not as originally expected.
Benny Veseli, who operates the Red Wheel restaurant in west Rantoul, will lease Family Table at 1724 E. Grove Ave. in the Rantoul Plaza.
Veseli’s wife, Lisa, who will manage both restaurants, said Dave Meyer, who owns the plaza, which includes the Family Table property, approached Veseli about operating the east-side eatery, not the other way around.
Duane Smith said he and his wife, Jennifer, were informed by Meyer that he would not be leasing the restaurant to the Smiths.
The issue has the Smiths and some others in the community upset, but Meyer said the problem was he was never approached about the Smiths leasing the restaurant until late in the process.
"It was kind of strange," Meyer said. "I hadn’t even quoted a lease rate to them because I hadn’t met them," Meyer said.
Ron Minch, who serves as a de facto manager of Rantoul Plaza for Meyer, showed the Smiths the restaurant, and Duane Smith said he and his wife began negotiating with him.
Minch agreed that Meyer thought "things were out of sequence and that he should have been in the mix much earlier."
Duane Smith said the problem apparently stemmed from Meyer not being satisfied with a credit check he did on the Smiths. But he said that information did not take into consideration that the Smiths would form a limited liability company, which can provide the same limited liability protection as a corporation without many of the complexities and formalities associated with them.
Meyer would not speak on the Smiths’ credit check, saying he does not comment on such matters.
But he and Lisa Veseli both said it was Meyer who approached the Veselis about leasing the restaurant, not the other way around. They said the Veselis didn’t seek to undercut the Smiths when they learned of their plans to open the restaurant.
The Smiths’ plans to begin leasing the business were revealed when they applied for a $55,000 revolving fund loan from the village. Restaurant operators Larry and Jessy Dzeladini, who have operated the eatery since 2013, planned to sell the business and restaurant equipment to the Smiths.
The Smiths were informed late last week, though, that there would be no deal with Meyer.
An upset Duane Smith told the Rantoul Village Board at Tuesday’s study session that the decision to offer the restaurant to the Veselis "left us with no venue."
"Our goal from the beginning was to provide the city of Rantoul and the surrounding area a better dining experience and doing it in a turnkey operation," Smith said.
Veseli’s goal, Smith said, was to "squash that and Rantoul’s hope of having more sitdown dining choices."
Lisa Veseli said that wasn’t her husband’s intent and said she plans to let the public know what really happened after they get plans cleared away to reopen the business. She said contrary to some reports, they did not lease the Family Table simply to close it, eliminating competition.
She said the Dzeladinis plan to close the restaurant March 25, and the Veselis will reopen it about a week after that.
"I want to put something in the paper just because a lot of what was said is false," Lisa Veseli said of social media comments and statements made at the village board meeting. "I want to make sure everyone knows the truth. It was never personal. Business is business. We didn’t go to anybody. They came to us."
She said they are not sure what they will call their new restaurant but plan to retain as many current staff as possible.
"I think it looks really nice," Lisa Veseli said of the restaurant. "They did a good job."
She said if any changes are made, they would likely not be made right away.
Duane Smith said "it was kinda weird that nobody reached out to us from the city" after he informed them that they would not go ahead with seeking the $55,000 loan.
Board members Ken Medlen and Hank Gamel said at the board meeting that they were concerned by how things happened. But Mayor Chuck Smith said the matter was a case of private business and did not concern the village board.
Economic Development Director Rebecca Motley said from the village’s perspective, "We are happy that a restaurant is opening there."
Duane Smith said since word got out that he and his wife would not be getting the Family Table building, other local property owners have indicated they would be willing to build properties "to our needs, which we are looking at."
But it won’t happen for a while because "this is still kind of a fresh wound."
Smith said they will also look at existing buildings.
"Mr. Veseli can’t rent every facility in Rantoul," Smith said.
He also said they have been contacted by seven surrounding communities, ranging in population from 500 to 15,000 asking them to consider opening the restaurant in their town.
Said Smith, "They said they thought we had a great idea for a sitdown family-style restaurant."