C-U's closed restaurants await new menu or new purpose

C-U's closed restaurants await new menu or new purpose

Although its sign and drive-thru menu were removed after the Hardee's on Neil Street in Champaign closed last month, the building is still distinctly a Hardee's.

This could make it harder to find a new buyer, though some local commercial real-estate brokers said there's plenty of restaurateurs looking for ready-made space.

"They are a little bit harder to repurpose than regular retail buildings," said David Wetzel, a broker with The Weiner Companies. "They have a lot of infrastructure in place specific to restaurants. Because of that, remodeling costs become significantly higher if you want to repurpose the space."

In contrast, a retail space can be more easily repurposed, Wetzel said.

"You've got essentially a box shell and can put anything into it," he said.

He's one of the brokers trying to sell the former Taffies restaurant at Country Fair Shopping Center, which closed in 2015 and moved to Mahomet (where it closed again last year).

"We've had some nibbles over the last couple years," Wetzel said. "Nothing solid."

When a restaurant closes, it's likely to become another restaurant.

"I would say probably 90 percent of the time," said Jill Guth, commercial broker with Guth & Associates.

That happened with the former Wendy's at 410 N. Race St., U, which closed in 2006.

Three years later, Windy City Express moved in after several months of renovations.

"It made more sense for them to move into something that had already been a restaurant," said Kris McConkey, a cashier at Windy City Express. "It's a lot easier to convert something that used to be a restaurant into what you want to do with the restaurant."

While it still has the look of a former Wendy's on the inside, it is also clearly a Chicago-style fast-food joint.

"Every once in a while," someone will mention that it used to be a Wendy's, McConkey said. "But not too much. Everybody pretty much knows what we're about or they've heard things about us."

Guth, who is trying to sell the former Za's locations, said former restaurants can sell pretty quickly.

"It just kind of depends on the location, on the price," she said. "One we almost have under contract already. It was probably on the market two weeks before we had a contract in a draft form."

She declined to say which Za's — the one near Market Place Mall or the one in Country Fair — is close to selling or what it could become.

"There's a lot of people that are looking," Guth said. "It depends on the size, but there aren't a lot of restaurants with kitchens available. So if there are, they tend to be taken pretty quickly."

Nathan Tonnies, a principal with Metro Commercial Real Estate, recently helped sell the former Ruby Tuesday building on North Prospect Avenue that closed in 2016.

"I had nine Ruby Tuesday's to retenant, and the North Prospect one was really one of the best locations of all nine of them," Tonnies said.

It was sold in September to Leon Capital, a Texas-based real-estate investment group, for $1.7 million, according to the Champaign County assessor's website.

"We're actively marketing the site," said Ryan Griffin, Leon Capital's director of retail leasing. "Nothing new we can announce today."

Tonnies also said former restaurant sites can be an asset.

"Having the right utilities and the right amount of power and all the things a restaurant needs, there's a lot of value in that," he said. "The difficult thing is that national chains have a hard time retrofitting former buildings, so a lot of time they will have to tear them down. Even so, there's value to the utilities already being set up for a restaurant."

If the restaurant has a drive-thru, that can be a bonus if another drive-thru restaurant is moving in, Tonnies said.

"Even if they don't use it, they can always close it up," he said.

As for Hardee's, it's not clear what's next.

While its other location on Mattis Avenue is still open, Hardee's corporate has yet to comment on why the South Neil Street location closed or what its plans are for the building.

Sections (2):News, Business
Topics (2):Economy, Restaurants

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champaign61821 wrote on February 26, 2018 at 8:02 am

Seems to me it closed because the long-time day shift employees left a year or so back. I'm not sure why, but it clearly went downhill after that. Poor management and then rising prices on top of that, can't help. Whomever owned this franchise did a very poor job or running it. The lines used to be so long in the morning with people wanting breakfast.

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