Tequila bar set for Carmon's old space

CHAMPAIGN — Victor and Ezequiel "Sammy" Fuentes plan to open a tequila bar and grill in the former Carmon's building in downtown Champaign.

"If everything goes well, it will open in about six weeks," Victor Fuentes said, adding he hopes to close on the purchase of the building at 415 N. Neil St., C, this week.

Fuentes said The Wedge Tequila Bar and Grill will be open for lunch and dinner, as well as late into the night on certain days.

The food will have some "Mexican influence, but we'll have other dishes as well," he said.

The Fuentes family is probably best known for its popular El Toro restaurants, but Victor Fuentes said The Wedge will be different from those.

"The menu will not be as big as the menu at El Toro, and it will change every four to five weeks," he said.

The Wedge refers to the lime wedge often served with tequila, margaritas and other drinks, Fuentes said. The image will be used in the bar's logo.

Fuentes said he was looking for something to complement the nightlife in downtown Champaign and thought a tequila bar might be the answer.

"I wanted to try some new things," Fuentes said, noting that a previous experiment — the V. Picasso tapas restaurant and lounge in downtown Urbana — didn't work out for him.

"I was waiting for the right opportunity," he said.

With the new Hyatt Place hotel scheduled to be built at the southwest corner of Church and Neil streets in downtown Champaign, he decided the opportunity had arrived.

The building at 415 N. Neil St. is a block-and-a-half to the north of the hotel site, and building owner Jeff Mellander was willing to sell.

"I figured I might as well jump the gun and do it myself," Fuentes said, noting he wanted to buy because he plans to be downtown for a long time.

Mellander said one condition of the sale was that he be allowed to remove the neon Carmon's letters from the building and store them.

From 1947 to 2007, the building was home to Carmon's restaurant, which was operated first by Carl Monen and in later years by Paul Damski, who served breakfast and lunch.

That was succeeded in 2007 by Carmon's Creperie, which operated for four years. After a brief closure, it reopened as Carmon's Bistro, but that closed in late August.

Fuentes said he hopes to make the building look "more modern" and "look alive." Besides making cosmetic upgrades to the exterior, he hopes to upgrade and extend the patio area.

The Wedge is expected to have about 12 employees, he added.

The Fuentes family operates El Toro Bravo and El Toro 2 in Champaign, as well as El Toro restaurants in Urbana, St. Joseph, Danville, Rantoul, Monticello, Bloomington, Cincinnati and Walton, Ky. It also operates La Fiesta in Springfield.

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jdmac44 wrote on September 12, 2012 at 8:09 am

They still could have called it Carmon's.  :o/

Joe American wrote on September 12, 2012 at 8:09 am

Oh, no, "the Wedge" is so much more cutting edge and trendy.

I give it a year to start losing money and two-three before something else moves in.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on September 12, 2012 at 10:09 am
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Way to write their obit before they even open.  We have a wine lounge and a martini lounge downtown that both seem to be doing fine.  We also have a sizable Mexican community in town, in case you haven't noticed.  I don't see why a tequila bar won't work out as long as it is well run.

Now, the "convenience" store opening soon across the street that closes at 6 PM and at 1 PM on Saturday...now there is a business destined to fail.

but naw, Ol' Joe American doesn't wanna hear about all this tequila bar nonsense.  REAL American bars only serve Bud, Miller, and Jack, dagnabit.

Joe American wrote on September 12, 2012 at 11:09 am

"....in case you haven't noticed", that's MY educated guess with a sprinkling of opinion and a dash of speculation.  No obit.  No death knell.  No voodoo spell. I see that I need to spell that out to you a little more clearly next time.

sluskiier wrote on September 13, 2012 at 9:09 am

I agree that "Wedge" is much more trendy, but why the negative attitude?  What makes you think this couldn't succeed in downtown Champaign?  Lots of new bars and restaurants have gone up over the last few years, and with the exception of a couple, all are still going strong.  There are no other tequila bars in Champaign-Urbana.  If another generic Neito bar can last, I certainly think a new concept could thrive.  Props to the Fuentes family.

CULater wrote on September 12, 2012 at 11:09 am

I hope they succeed! Perhaps it will be a more upscale Mexican experience. I do however have a problem with the lack of diversity in the choice of restuarants in CU. I hope the Wedge does well because I would rather see a mom and pop shop anyday before I see another Chevys or Applebees or any other corporate crap.

 

- Speaking of , Twitter co founder Jack tweets about CU when he arrived:

 "What always strikes me when I return to the Midwest is how the abundance of fast food makes every other option disappear. We can do better."

We CAN do better.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on September 12, 2012 at 12:09 pm
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Do you or the head Twit really expect Champaign-Urbana to have the same selection of restaurants as whatever trendy coastal enclave I imagine he lives in?  I do not care much for fast food and there are way more chain restaurants in town than I would prefer, but this Jack character still sounds pretty smug.  Maybe if you and him looked a little closer, you two would notice that C-U has a pretty solid selection of more upscale options for a Midwestern town of this size.  I would hardly say that fast food makes "every other option disappear" in C-U.  Sure, we can still "do better" in regards to the fast-food/non fast-food ratio, but we can do it without an elitist attitude.

sluskiier wrote on September 13, 2012 at 9:09 am

I fully agree.  I absolutely despise when people come down from Chicago or wherever and say, "Champaign sucks!  There's nothing here!"  And then I ask if they've gone to downtown Champaign, and they ask, "where's that?"  Happens all the time.  There's NOTHING chain in downtown Champaign, and given Champaign's size, the downtown is pretty darn impressive.  Compare downtown Champaign to downtown Bloomington (IL)--two twin cities, both college towns of similar size, only 50 miles apart--their downtowns are like night and day.  Champaign has something special and I'm proud of it.

bettycat wrote on September 12, 2012 at 11:09 am

I felt a punch in my gut when I saw the photo showing the neon sign had been removed.  That makes me so sad, I can't even tell you.

I do wish them success in their venture but I really really wish they'd left the front of the building alone.  :(

 

alabaster jones 71 wrote on September 12, 2012 at 12:09 pm
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Indeed, it will take some getting used to not seeing those letters there.  The previous building owner is hanging on to them though, so at least they aren't going to the junkyard and we might see them pop up somewhere else someday.

welive wrote on September 12, 2012 at 1:09 pm

it will be just as successful as V Piccaso was in downtown urbana.Stick to Tacos thats what This town likes.

Ozwald wrote on September 12, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I am not bashing on the idea of changing the name, the purpose or the people doing it.  I simply wish they would have left the neon up.  I think that no matter what goes in that spot at least for me , unless its a friendly guy with a Cubs hat running a grill I will still miss Carmons.

Paul if you by chance read this Thank You for preserving Carmons as long as you did.

 

just_wondering wrote on September 13, 2012 at 8:09 am

Great addition to downtown! Looking forward to enjoying some wonderful anejo tequilas.

sluskiier wrote on September 13, 2012 at 9:09 am

I am so incredibly excited to see this happening!  D.S. Tequila Company in Chicago is wildly popular (although the Fuentes family won't be producing their own tequila, the concept could be the same) and I think it would do well in downtown Champaign, too.  It's nice to see a new type of bar/restaurant coming to downtown, and I've always thought a Mexican restaurant was obviously missing from the line-up.  The Fuentes family clearly has a lot of experience in running restaurants, and I think this will be a success.  I'm also glad that the Carmon's sign is being preserved to keep as a piece of history.  Although it's sort of a "landmark," so-to-speak, in downtown, I don't fault them at all for removing it.  "Wedge" sounds much more trendy and appropriate, and I think keeping the "Carmon's" name would stigmatize the place.  It's time for change, and time to refresh that space.

I don't think it's completely fair to bring up the failure of V. Picasso; a LOT of bars/restaurants don't make it in Urbana because of the location.  Downtown Champaign is simply more vibrant and patrons tend to stay put when going out for a night of drinking, rather than traversing to Urbana for a stop or two.  With the exception of a couple establishments, bars and restaurants largely succeed in downtown Champaign, and I expect for this new place to follow suit.  Congratulations to the Fuentes family!  We're all looking forward to drinking and dining at your new spot.

rtdorsey wrote on September 14, 2012 at 4:09 pm

I agree. I'm only 28, but remeber going there for breakfast since I was 3 or 4. The neons will surely be missed. Wondering if they'd be for sale? Just a thought. So much history and memories there for my family and me.

read the DI wrote on September 17, 2012 at 11:09 am

Tequila! ma nant nana nana nant na...