New Wahlburgers restaurant taking shape in St. Charles
In the latest season of the "Wahlburgers" TV show, actor and singer Donnie Wahlberg kicks off one episode with a question about his family's restaurant chain: "What ever happened to the location Donnie was building in St. Charles?"
It's one of the top inquiries Mayor Ray Rogina has heard from constituents since the Massachusetts-based burger joint was granted city council approval last summer. And it's been a longtime dream of Wahlberg's to bring those plans to fruition in the town he calls home.
Within the past several weeks, the restaurant at Randall Road and Route 38 has begun taking shape, and Rogina estimates it'll be ready by early next year. Judging by the hundreds of fans who showed up for a ceremonial groundbreaking in March, he said, he has no doubt visitors will flock from all over the region once it opens.
"I think it'll be a destination," he said. "It's going to be a win-win for their company as well as the city."
The national chain was founded by Wahlberg and his two brothers, actor Mark and executive chef Paul, who have typically targeted big cities for their Wahlburgers locations. After moving to St. Charles with his wife, radio and TV personality Jenny McCarthy, and their sons, Wahlberg said, he decided to bring his business venture to the community that welcomed them.
Contrary to initial reports, however, the St. Charles location won't be the first Wahlburgers in Illinois -- a point Rogina said he was sure to "razz" Wahlberg about during filming of the May 29 "Wahlburgers" episode.
In the show, Wahlberg visits the mayor's office at city hall, where he explained that a franchisee had the rights for Illinois, but he wanted to tackle the St. Charles restaurant himself.
"It took a little arm twisting, but I got them to agree," he says.
The biggest reason for the project's delay, Wahlberg says, was a request from his son. A St. Charles East High School senior at the time of filming, he asked his dad to push off construction until he was closer to graduating so he wouldn't be inundated with questions from his classmates.
In the meantime, the state's first Wahlburgers opened in Chicago -- a distinction Wahlberg said he hoped to give St. Charles.
Rogina admitted he gave Wahlberg a bit of a hard time. But "whether it was the first or second one is not that important to me, and I don't think it's that important to our citizens," he told the Daily Herald. "We're happy to have it here."
Rogina also was invited to Wahlberg and McCarthy's house to check out a room filled with memorabilia belonging to the celebrity couple. Those Emmy Awards, platinum records, artwork and more will be on display at the St. Charles Wahlburgers, making it "unlike anything anyone's ever seen," Wahlberg said.
Wahlburgers will be one of three new retail buildings on a Meijer outlot at Route 38 and Randall Road, "one of the most well-traveled corners of Kane County," Rogina said. Work is under way on the restaurant, as well as a second building slated for a Starbucks. A tenant for the third business has not been determined.
Working with Wahlberg has been a positive experience, Rogina said, noting he and McCarthy put St. Charles in the spotlight and have been "great ambassadors" for the community.
"Mayor Rogina is an awesome guy," Wahlberg said in his show. "He's been nothing but supportive, and is really the main reason there's a Wahlburgers coming to St. Charles."