What seemed like a popular eatery in downtown Elgin closed abruptly Tuesday after being in business for a little more than a year.
Tom Creighton, owner of On the Side Restaurant and Catering at 74 S. Grove Ave., said the business wasn't making a profit.
"It's kind of like a slow leak in a pipe. We've been cash negative, and at some point you have to decide, 'Is it going to get much better?'" he said.
Creighton said he considered holding out until spring, knowing that winter is traditionally a slow time for restaurants.
He also thought of serving lunch and dinner, rather than breakfast and lunch, but that wouldn't work for his personal life, he said.
"I sort of mulled it over in my head, talked to my wife and my accountant," he said. "I had to realistically, honestly, look at where I was financially."
On the Side is the third downtown Elgin eatery to shut its doors since late September, when Italian restaurant Villa Verone closed, followed by Ravenheart Coffee in November.
Allysen Huber, who works a couple doors down at Chooch's Pizzeria, said she was shocked to find On the Side closed when she tried to go there for some soup Tuesday morning.
"It's really sad because it was great food. Everything is homemade," she said.
Creighton supplied Chooch's with fresh cheesecakes, and Creighton also brought in fresh pastries for the employees every Saturday.
"He's a wonderful guy. I love Tom," she said.
Downtown Neighborhood of Elgin Executive Director Deirdre White said she was equally stunned.
If the restaurant was struggling, the DNA had no inkling, she said. On the Side opened in December 2012, she said.
"We are as baffled about it as everyone else," she said. "Our economic development director was just in there for dinner last night. We do frequent there often. We had absolutely no idea."
Despite the departure of the three eateries, White remained optimistic about the downtown's viability.
A new veterinary clinic opened downtown in early December, and Viking Thrift and Artwork will relocate downtown from its location on State Street in March, she said.
Also, a couple more businesses -- neither of them eateries -- are considering opening downtown, White said.
"We do have these ones that have closed that are near and dear to our hearts, but we also have these others that are opening up," she said, adding that she believes restaurants can be successful in downtown Elgin.
Still, White said, more people could support downtown restaurants.
"I eat at all the restaurants downtown, and when I go in there I see people in there, but the outside of downtown Elgin is maybe not supporting the core. That could be part of it."
Other downtown eateries such as Elgin Public House have been very successful, Councilman John Prigge pointed out.
"They do not have cloth dining. They're known for a great atmosphere and being very affordable," he said.
Prigge added he had hoped that Elgin Artspace Lofts, which has 55 affordable housing units for artists and their families, would help bring life to downtown businesses. The building's grand opening was last summer.
Creighton, who lives in East Dundee, said he still believes downtown Elgin holds a lot of promise.
"I love what city is doing with downtown, I love the riverwalk idea," he said of the soon-to-be-completed Riverside Drive. "I think there's an opportunity for people to do restaurants down there."
What saddens him the most is disappointing his customers, many of whom were regulars, he said.
"Everybody liked the food. I just couldn't get more everybodies."