CHAMPAIGN — It's been two months since TGI Friday's closed its doors in Champaign. Now some of its former operators are preparing to open a new restaurant and bar in that space at Trade Centre South.
The new restaurant — to be called Prairie Fire — is slated to open by the middle of August, said Dave Block, one of the investors in the business.
It will have a diversified menu, including eight to 10 steak selections, prime rib, a variety of Mexican food, an array of Italian dishes, plus seafood and chicken, Block said.
Plus, Prairie Fire will have a big salad bar at night for those who want to make a meal of salad — and a smaller salad bar with lighter items at lunchtime, he said.
The Mexican food will be "authentic, not quick-turnaround," he added.
The bar, to be known as Congrats, will be "open air" but under cover, Block said. The patio will be landscaped with flowers, shrubs and trees and equipped with fireplaces, he said.
"It will be more like your own backyard, as opposed to a patio," Block said.
The motif inside the restaurant will reflect the prairie, while the bar area — located in the former "cafe" area — will be decorated with sports items from the University of Illinois and area high schools, he said.
The former bar area at TGI Friday's will be used as general seating for the restaurant, but can also be made available for private parties of 35 to 50 people, Block said.
Prairie Fire is also expected to offer a Sunday brunch, he added.
Hours are likely to be the same as TGI Friday's — 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, he said.
TGI Friday's had a 20-year run in Champaign, but Block said the franchisees decided not to renew their agreement when it expired in April.
He said TGI Friday's was the first of the modern casual-dining chains to open in Champaign — followed by the likes of Chili's, Applebee's, Ruby Tuesday and O'Charley's.
"Casual-dining restaurants are not what they used to be," he said, claiming the market has become saturated with them.
"The economy has just destroyed them. Everyone was giving stuff away. It was to the point where they were competing with discounts," he said.
Block said the final two or three years of TGI Friday's in Champaign were "a tough go."
"If you didn't have discounts, you had dark days," he said.
But the experienced restaurateur sized up the market and decided what's working are quality restaurants where the owner is present and knows the customers.
"People like to get a steak from a home-owned business that's not part of a national franchise," he said.
Integral to the operations of Prairie Fire will be Greg Wallace and Dave Murphy, both of whom were involved in TGI Friday's.
Block said he expects Prairie Fire to have a "minimum of 40" employees and probably more. Management staff from the old TGI Friday's have been retained for the new venture.
Prairie Fire will be the first-floor anchor for Trade Centre South, the multistory office building located near Neil Street and Kirby Avenue in Champaign. Wolfram Research is on some of the upper floors, and the Hawthorn Suites hotel is located just south of the building.
Making massages affordable
Becky Howell, owner of Essential Healing Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork in Savoy, said she's seen a lot of people in pain who "desperately need help and can't afford it."
So her business is going to try to "pay it forward" by offering half-price massage and reflexology sessions to those people on the first Tuesday of each month.
The half-price sessions are specifically for "people in pain who can't afford regular sessions," she said. Appointments are advisable since the discounted services are offered only that day.
The discounts apply to Swedish, therapeutic and deep-tissue massage sessions, as well as reflexology sessions.
When asked why she decided to adopt the "pay it forward" concept, Howell said,
"People can decide if they want the world to get better or get worse, and if we act humanely toward each other, it could get better."
Essential Healing, which has grown to a staff of five, is located at the Senators Inn, 801 N. Dunlap Ave., Savoy. Its website is http://www.essentialhealingcu.com , and its phone number is 552-6604.
— Copasetic Consignments, 204 N. Neil St., C, will host a furniture refurbishing seminar from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 1. Cost is $10, payable at the door. Wine and desserts will be served. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org  or call 402-5541.
— The University of Illinois Employees Credit Union has renamed its investment advisory services UIECU Investments & Retirement Planning. The services were previously offered under the Members Financial Services name.
Are you opening a new business or changing an existing one? Contact Don Dodson at 351-5227 or 800-252-3346; by email at email@example.com; or by regular mail at The News-Gazette, c/o It's Your Business column, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.