Elgin turns down cafe offering alcohol, video gambling

Posted1/9/2014 5:44 PM
  • The Elgin liquor control commission Wednesday turned down a proposal by Java Jills to set up shop in the space formerly occupied by Ravenheart Coffee at 176 E. Chicago St.

      The Elgin liquor control commission Wednesday turned down a proposal by Java Jills to set up shop in the space formerly occupied by Ravenheart Coffee at 176 E. Chicago St. Christopher hankins | Staff Photographer

A cafe featuring alcohol and video gambling will not be coming to downtown Elgin, but the company hopes to set up shop elsewhere in the Northwest suburbs later this year.

Members of the Elgin liquor control commission Wednesday unanimously turned down a preliminary proposal by Java Jills, which sought a liquor license from the city for the space at 176 E. Chicago St., formerly occupied by Ravenheart Coffee. That license is required before seeking a video gambling license from the state.

The plan was to install five video gaming machines in the adults-only establishment, said Donald Thatcher of Naperville, vice president of Crown Pointe Amusement, LLC.

The Illinois-based company has Java Jills stores in Elwood -- the first in the state, which opened last July -- Yorkville and Minooka. More are under construction in Channahon and a second location in Yorkville, and property is leased in Homer Glen and Crest Hill, Thatcher said.

"We do coffee, and we do coffee very well, but we do gaming. It's a hand-in-hand sort of thing," he said.

But the liquor commission -- which comprises the entire city council -- balked at Thatcher's statement that about 70 percent of the stores' revenues come from video gambling.

"You really become a small casino," Mayor David Kaptain said.

Elgin approved video gambling in early 2013 to give its restaurants and bars an even playing field with competitors in nearby towns, Councilwoman Anna Moeller said.

"It wasn't intended to create and expand this new level of video cafes," she said.

"The direction for our downtown is a fragile thing, and I don't feel this would be an appropriate location for this kind of establishment," Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger said.

Ravenheart Coffee, in business since 2007, closed on Black Friday. Landlord Jerri McCue said she was disappointed, because Java Jills planned to sign a five-year lease with a five-year extension option.

"We need to be creative. We need to be open to prospects and ideas," she said.

Councilman John Steffen asked Thatcher if he'd be willing to start out as a coffee shop, and later add video gambling.

Thatcher said that wouldn't work.

"For us to put just a coffee shop, we wouldn't last a year," he said. "Other than Starbucks, it's very, very difficult for an independent coffee shop to make it in this day and age. You have to sell a lot of cups of coffee to reach your $2,000 or $3,000 in rent."

Starbucks isn't interested in the former Ravenheart location, Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin Executive Director Deirdre White said. It generally takes about two to five years for small businesses to make a profit, she added.

Thatcher said he will be looking for opportunities in other Northwest suburbs, including South Elgin and Des Plaines, in the next few months.

"We hadn't planned on coming north this soon, but the opportunity came with this site in Elgin," he said. "It's very rare that I can move into a site where I can move in and open up the doors."

Thatcher said he's one of three members of Crown Pointe Amusements -- the other two live in Ohio and own similar video gaming cafes in West Virginia under a different name.

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