Organic foods, teahouse, condos planned at ex-JBJ site

Organic foods, teahouse, condos planned at ex-JBJ site

CHAMPAIGN – Local restaurateur Janet Bubin plans to renovate the former JBJ building on South Neil Street for a natural foods store, teahouse and condominiums.

Bubin, who owns Ko-Fusion in downtown Champaign and who formerly owned Miko in Urbana, said she hopes to open the natural and organic foods store sometime next year.

The store would occupy about 15,000 square feet on the building's first floor. Bubin said she would like to lease the remaining 13,000 square feet on that floor for restaurant or retail use.

The space available for lease includes two storefront spaces along Neil Street, as well as space on the building's west side.

Upstairs, Bubin plans to develop 11 condominiums that she hopes to sell for $150,000 to $200,000 apiece. The condos would have either two or three bedrooms. Four would have private patios, and the others would share a common patio, she said.

Bubin said she plans to operate the teahouse on the south side of the building, located at 723 S. Neil St. Tea, coffee and pastries would be served on a canopied patio to be built along William Street.

She estimated the total renovation cost in the $3 million to $4 million range. No names have been chosen yet for the natural foods store or teahouse.

Bubin said she has always had an interest in natural and organic foods and serves only those at Ko-Fusion. She said she senses a market among grocery shoppers for those products, pointing to the crowds that flock to the farmers' market at Lincoln Square Village each Saturday.

She said she would like the store to be somewhat like Trader Joe's, a privately owned grocery chain with 280 stores in 23 states, including 15 stores in the Chicago area.

Among other things, Bubin's store will carry organic pet foods, organic baby foods, vitamins, herbs, organic meats and organic vegetables in season, she said.

Shoppers would enter the store through five entrances on the south and west, and condo residents would enter from the west. An elevator will be installed to accommodate them.

"The grocery store business should be easier than the restaurant business," Bubin said. "This is the hardest business to be in."

Bubin said Nigel Morgan, the chef at Ko-Fusion, will be involved in management of the natural foods store and teahouse, given his current contacts with natural and organic foods suppliers. Her husband, Barry, will also be an owner of the business, though he jokingly described his role as "spiritual adviser and go-fer."

Bubin, who said they bought the building about six weeks ago, said she was drawn to the arched ceiling supports on the second floor. Those supports will be preserved, polished and painted as an architectural feature of the condos, she said.

The upstairs area has ceilings that are about 15 feet high.

The front part of the JBJ building dates from 1929. From 1985 to 2005, the building housed JBJ Fine Gifts – Home Decor – Collectibles.

Before that, the building was known as the White Line Laundry. Even today, the front of the building features two insignias bearing the image of Kaptain Klean.

The Bubins opened Ko-Fusion in One Main Plaza in downtown Champaign in 2005. The restaurant, which faces North Neil Street, serves French, American, Italian and sushi-inspired dishes.

Janet Bubin said she and her husband opened Miko restaurant at 407 W. University Ave., U, in 1993, but sold the business in June to Tina Kwon. Bubin said they still own the building.

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