For the past 30 months, St. Charles businessman Ron Onesti has viewed the Onesti Dinner Club restaurant as an extension of his personality and energy.
It was an easy connection to make, since Onesti, also the owner of the historic Arcada Theater in downtown St. Charles, made sure he was at his restaurant at 14 N. Fourth St. as much as possible.
Citing the growing popularity and significant upgrade of entertainment at the Arcada and some future time-consuming projects, Onesti informed friends and supporters Tuesday that he is closing his restaurant.
The announcement came as a surprise to many who felt the restaurant was doing well despite the recession, which reared its head at about the same time Onesti opened the dinner club.
"You always hope you are making the right decision, because the restaurant was doing very well, but I wanted to go out like John Elway, not like Brett Favre," Onesti said.
"I have no regrets because I accomplished what I set out to do, and the restaurant got to the point where you couldn't even get in, it was so busy," Onesti added. "I would get great e-mails from people saying what a great experience they had, with the food and entertainment, and that we really captured the magic.
"The fact that we were able to create that for people really, from starting out with nothing, says a lot."
Much like he did in reopening the shuttered Arcada Theater six years ago, Onesti reopened the vacant restaurant site that had its own historic significance in St. Charles. It was the site of the original St. Patrick's Church in St. Charles in 1851, and after the new church was built on Cedar Street in 1912, the Fourth Street site became vacant, other than to house St. Patrick School classrooms for a short time in the early 1950s.
In the early 1970s, it became the Old Church Inn restaurant under owners Laurie and Terry Grove and eventually had two other sets of owners and was renamed "Destination" before closing to the public in 1999.
St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte, who has witnessed all of the changes at the restaurant site, understood why Onesti was closing the doors.
"I know how hard Ron has worked to create quality entertainment in the downtown, and I can see where he was stretched in both directions (with the theater and the restaurant)," DeWitte said. "He would be racing back and forth on any given night."
In pointing out his time conflicts, Onesti said a recent commitment by Showtime to air a television special based on a comedy show produced at the Arcada would result in a national tour in which Onesti would be "heavily involved."
Onesti said he contemplated hiring another manager to operate the restaurant, but just felt it could not translate to the same atmosphere.
"The restaurant became such an extension of myself, personally, and I wanted it to be that way," Onesti said. "It was all of that stuff that made us different, and it is just hard to hire that."
In the past few weeks, Onesti suffered one of his biggest business setbacks when the city council denied his attempt to bring a mixed martial arts event back to the theater after two successful shows in the past.
But he said it was just a coincidence that he missed out on that business and decided to close the restaurant a week later.
"It (closing the restaurant) had zero to do with that, but I do find the denial of that sport, which has become so much more sophisticated, as a very strange turn of events for us, because we've had the shows in the past," Onesti said.
DeWitte, who has spoken in favor of allowing the sports event at the theater, said he was disappointed to learn this week that a team from Italy was postponing its trip to St. Charles because of the ongoing debate on the council floor.
Onesti also said the Arcada Theater will continue to do well without the restaurant, which was connected in many facets -- with diners before or after shows, and for the entertainers and their workers for after-show dining. Onesti said he would be open to creating that sort of marketing connection with other restaurants in the city.
The property will be for sale, and Onesti believes it will have plenty of interest as a future restaurant or entertainment location in the city.
DeWitte agrees, pointing to the site's history as a key.
"The historic aspects of that building have made it a great destination in the past," DeWitte said. "The unique properties of that building would make it suitable for any potential reuse."