Two cafe chains with video gambling and geared toward women are making inroads in the suburbs, but not without attracting some criticism.
Dotty's Cafe and Stella's Place are two players that have been gaining approval for liquor licenses necessary to offer video gambling in Illinois. Both operations tout a comfortable atmosphere and dining options unlike sports bars and restaurants where the video terminals typically are found.
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"You don't get the drama that you have in a bar, with men trying to pick you up," Dotty's quotes an unidentified Nevada customer as saying in promotional materials provided to the Mundelein Liquor Control Commission for a hearing this week. "And you feel more at home here than in a big casino. I would never go anywhere else."
But it's the marketing toward women by Dotty's Cafe, Stella's Place and a smattering of others in the state that's causing concern at the Springfield-based Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems.
"We're concerned about gambling addiction," said Jeanie Lowe, Illinois Church Action's governmental affairs director. "But these places designed for women are of great concern. They are. They are of great concern because women are more likely to gamble for escape. They are less likely to seek help."
Dotty's Chief Executive Officer Daniel Fischer said the criticism is unwarranted.
Fischer said Dotty's should open its first Illinois cafe on North Avenue in Melrose Park next week, with plans for 150 across Illinois. Dotty's, which is under the corporate umbrella of Illinois Cafe and Services Co., also has approval to operate in Wauconda, Streamwood, Waukegan, Oak Forest, Lemont and other towns.
But Fischer encountered resistance for the expansion plan at Monday's Mundelein Liquor Control Commission meeting. By a 4-3 margin in an informal village board poll, the elected officials who also serve on the liquor commission declined to create licenses for two proposed Dotty's locations.
Trustee Terri Voss, who was against the liquor licenses, said it was her impression the state approved video gambling as a way to boost revenue at existing bars and restaurants, not to bring in new businesses.
"I don't feel, as a representative demographic that you're looking for, that this is a place I would find particularly attractive," Voss added. "I certainly don't think that we need two of them in Mundelein. ... To me, this is just a gaming establishment that would serve mediocre food."
Fischer said he intends to offer Mundelein officials a tour of Dotty's facilities in an effort to get them to reconsider the liquor license denial. He said a 35,000-square-foot commissary in Bensenville will prepare high-quality food for distribution to suburban Dotty's, comparing it to a system used by chains such as Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts.
Launched in Oregon in 1992, Dotty's bills itself as an alternative to a sports bar-restaurant where video gambling typically is found. It has more than 150 locations in Nevada, Montana and Oregon.
Dotty's has a self-imposed four-drink maximum and a menu offering breakfast, lunch and dinner amid a decor featuring knickknacks, flower arrangements and wallpaper. Fischer said the friendly, country kitchen atmosphere was not created with the idea of luring women into becoming heavy gamblers.
"There's nothing sneaky about it," Fischer told the Daily Herald. "It's a quaint place. I mean, we want it to feel like your grandma's kitchen. You have the same level of service that you get from your grandmother. You're comfortable. They get to know your name. It's very personable. Everything's great about it."
Mundelein Trustee Ed Sullivan, who supported Dotty's liquor license request, said the business would fill an entertainment need in the village and bring traffic to the two shopping centers where the cafes were proposed.
"The target market is middle-aged women who want to come in -- not sit at a bar -- and socialize," Sullivan said.
Alcohol and video gambling revenue were expected to account for less than 40 percent revenue in Mundelein, according to a document Dotty's submitted to the village.
Operated by Laredo Hospitality Ventures, Stella's Place executives have been before elected officials in villages including Bartlett, Hoffman Estates, Wheeling, Fox Lake and Lake in the Hills. In notes prepared for a meeting over the summer, Lake in the Hills' staff noted Stella's would be a high-end business catering to a female clientele.
Similar to Dotty's, Stella's Place gave materials to local governments stating the clientele is expected about 60 percent women and 35 to 75 years old, appreciates personalized service, enjoys gambling as a form of entertainment and prefers a cafe to a bar. Stella's Place executives Gary Leff and Charity Johns could not be reached for comment.
Leff wrote to Lake in the Hills officials that Stella's will be a neighborhood cafe for adults to relax in and enjoy coffee, a light meal, beer or wine in a social environment. He said iPad mini-rentals and the video gambling will be among the entertainment options.