Restaurateur planning firehouse-style eatery in downtown Antioch

Since he frequently is asked the same question, restaurateur Kris Schoenberger jokingly agrees the answer must be "yes."

"I get asked every day if I'm crazy," said Schoenberger, a Salem, Wisconsin resident who is pursuing another dining venture less than two weeks after opening a new restaurant in Kenosha.

This time, the proprietor of BBQ'd Productions wants to convert the former David's Bistro space in downtown Antioch into a concept to be called Station 51.

A big part of the plan is to remake the exterior of the building, which dates to the early 1900s but has been modified over time. Exterior work is expected to represent about $204,000 of the $400,000 overall investment.

Antioch will contribute $100,000 to the facade work, which is by far the largest awarded since the village's facade improvement program began in 2016, said Community Development Director Michael Garrigan.

The previous largest was $25,000. Grant funds must be reimbursed on a pro rata basis if the business operates five years or less.

The building is comprised of three storefronts. It housed David's Bistro restaurant in two of them for about 10 years before it closed a few months ago.

Schoenberger expanded a backyard barbecue catering business into a sit-down restaurant called BBQ'd Productions on Route 45 in Third Lake in 2014. A second location opened on Route 12 in Lake Zurich in 2017, and the Kenosha eatery debuted less than two weeks ago.

A fan of traditional downtowns with an old-time feel, Schoenberger has visited Antioch many times and was open to an opportunity there. The owner of David's Bistro is a friend, he said, and things fell in place.

He said village staff and officials have been instrumental in making the project possible.

"It's a very community-oriented town," Schoenberger said. "We have the belief that if we support the community, the community will support us. That's why we're opening during a pandemic."

Work could begin next week with a planned April 1 opening.

Garrigan described it as a significant investment that will create jobs, attract visitors and help other businesses nearby.

"It will be a major anchor along the northern corridor" of the downtown, Garrigan said.

Schoenberger said the 80- to 90-seat restaurant will be a "new brand, new concept" in which diners will select dishes from six different virtual food trucks to be cooked to order.

As proposed, the exterior work will create enlarged bays outfitted with overhead doors that can be opened in summer to emulate a "firehouse look," according to grant documents.

"You need something that people go, 'Wow. What's that?' " Schoenberger said. "Curb appeal."

The firehouse features will be a nod to a building just north on Main Street, built in 1907 as the village hall and police and fire departments, with room for one fire truck.

Schoenberger said the name Station 51 is a reference to fire stations depicted in the TV shows "Emergency" and "Chicago Fire," and to honor the 75th anniversary of his grandfather's resort on Highway 51 in Wisconsin.

A rendering shows a facade improvement for the proposed Station 51 restaurant being planned for the former David's Bistro space at 883 Main St., in downtown Antioch. Courtesy of village of Antioch
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