Toby Keith's: We've paid our taxes, and we want to stay in Rosemont
The management of Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill -- facing an eviction suit from the village of Rosemont -- is asking Mayor Brad Stephens for another chance.
But is it already too late for the country-themed music bar?
"They are on a very short leash. That's why we're at where we're at," Stephens said. "We've had some issues with them over the last three years."
The village filed suit against the bar's owner last month for not paying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of taxes and rent.
But Toby Keith's General Manager Larry Vanni said this week everything owed has been paid -- property taxes to Cook County, sales taxes to the state, and sales taxes and rent to the village, which owns the MB Financial Park entertainment district where Toby Keith's is located.
That's why Vanni hopes he can convince Stephens to not only drop the eviction suit, but let Toby Keith's remain in the entertainment district long-term.
The restaurant's current lease expires Dec. 31.
"Maybe, maybe not," Stephens said of whether Toby Keith's could stay into 2016.
The mayor said others interested in Toby Keith's 32,900-square-foot location have been "beating down my door" in hopes of coming to the entertainment district.
But Vanni says the Rosemont Toby Keith's is the most profitable of the chain's six venues that remain -- and its revenues were being used to try to keep other locations afloat.
Bars in Orlando, Cincinnati, Houston, Minnesota, Virginia and California all shut their doors in recent months, many of which failed to pay taxes and rent.
"Some of the other locations we picked were probably not the best and not as competitive as we should've been and maybe should've been closed sooner rather than taking Rosemont's money and giving it to them," Vanni said. "They were robbing Peter to pay Paul in hopes of keeping things open. We are paying the price.
"The number one store in the chain can't support all the other dogs."
Now Vanni says he will be responsible for the Rosemont location's books -- not staff at the Phoenix, Arizona, corporate offices of Boomtown Entertainment, which runs Toby Keith's locations across the country.
"This is the direction of the owner -- to take care of Rosemont first," Vanni said of Boomtown CEO Frank Capri. "He wants to be here. He doesn't like the way this went down."
At one point, Boomtown owed the Illinois Department of Revenue $379,958 worth of sales taxes and emergency 911 surcharge fees, according to the village lawsuit.
It owed another $302,976 in 2014 local property taxes, including late fees, according to the Cook County treasurer's office.
Vanni says Capri wants to reinvest in the Rosemont location, putting in new furniture and bigger TVs -- but only if the lease is extended.
He said Boomtown wants to get its long-term lease back -- a 10-year deal with options for two 5-year extensions. It was replaced by a one-year lease last January because of the company's history of paying bills late.
"At the end of the day, he's always paid," Stephens said. "It's just not timely."
The village's eviction suit was in court Thursday for a status hearing. Trial is now set for trial Oct. 15.
Stephens said village officials considered dropping the suit, but is waiting to see if the bar's August rent check clears.
The July check bounced, after which Boomtown sent the village a certified check. That's why "we're a little skeptical" about future payments, Stephens said.
The state liquor control commission was scheduled to revoke the facility's state liquor license on July 31 for not paying sales taxes, and Stephens was ready to do the same for a local liquor license, but Toby Keith's paid those taxes July 24, just hours before a scheduled local hearing.
The bar/restaurant remains open and Vanni has been trying to do public relations damage control since Tuesday, when the Daily Herald reported on the eviction suit. Calls began pouring in from those who have reserved private rooms for parties, and staff members began expressing frustration over whether they'll still have jobs.
"I'm driving a Toby Keith fire truck putting out fires," Vanni said.
Stephens said if the village does get a new tenant, he likes the idea of having a venue with live music. And the existing facility could be split up. Toby Keith's was to fill about half the space, until it was expanded to include a performance stage.
"We're open to anything," Stephens said, adding he likes the Toby Keith's concept "because people are lining up Friday and Saturday nights, but as we see across the country, there's problems."