Owners close Red Poppy Bistro in Elgin, look to move to nearby town
Red Poppy Bistro's owners have closed the Elgin restaurant and say they plan to move to a neighboring city.
The restaurant, which opened in March 2020 and expanded the following year, posted a message on its Facebook page late Tuesday night saying that problems working with the Elgin city government made it impossible for them to succeed.
The post, which has garnered more than 400 comments, said, "The Red Poppy can no longer effectively function under current Elgin Government policies and ordinances."
On Wednesday morning, owner Matthew Habib said that business has been good. And while the current problem he's having with the city is over an outdoor walk-in cooler, it wasn't just one issue that made him want to leave.
"This did not just happen one day," he said. "We didn't just start having problems with Elgin at the Red Poppy.
"We have had problems with Elgin from day one with the food truck," said Habib, referring to Legit Dogs and Ice, the first business he and his wife, Jennifer Polit, opened in Elgin seven years ago.
Habib said he believed there wasn't consistency in his dealings with the city.
"The best way to sum up the issues I'm having with code enforcement is that they OK something, and then suddenly it's not OK," he said. "They come back on something they've approved or allowed and say it's not OK. It makes it impossible to have ... any type of rhythm or pattern that you can count on because they are constantly coming back and disrupting things they've already approved."
But city officials say they've been more than supportive of Habib's businesses over the years.
"The city has tried to help this business owner time and time again to be successful," city council member Tish Powell said. "We want all small-business owners to be successful, and we work hard to try and make that possible. And in this particular case, we've worked very diligently with him to try to help him resolve issues and to make sure that he is successful."
Elgin Community Development Director Marc Mylott said the city tries to go above and beyond to help downtown businesses succeed.
"From our perspective, we believe we've kind of bent over backward to help him, not only with Red Poppy, but all the way back to Legit Dogs," Mylott said, citing the city's willingness to pay $6,000 for acoustical testing that would allow Habib's former Legit Dogs restaurant hold concerts in the basement of its then Dream Hall location as one example of that support.
He said Habib's assertion that his businesses have been singled out over the years isn't true.
"No process is perfect, but we try to treat everyone the same," he said. "And we recognize that downtown brings unique circumstances, and so we try and work within reason to help people through our processes and ensure that everything at the end of the day will be safe."
Habib said trying to satisfy the requirements presented to him had become an all-consuming task.
"I can't be playing these games anymore," he said. "It's affecting me at work. It's affecting the quality of the food because I don't have time to do what I need to do here because all of my time is spent sitting in front of a computer trying to Google codes and ways to get through whatever phantom problem the city is throwing at me today. I'm just done with it."
Powell and Mylott said public safety is the reason the codes exist.
"We do everything we can to eliminate hoops that people would perceive to be hoops for the sake of hoops," Mylott said. "There are just certain things that at times we have to have to ensure that at the end of the day, buildings will be safe."
Powell said Red Poppy Bistro's owners were required to do what other restaurant owners must do.
"What the city has been asking him to do is not unreasonable," Powell said. "It is for the safety of his patrons."
Habib said he believes the grass will be greener in another town.
"We are trying to find the right location," Habib said. "And we're going to make sure that we have the resources and a very clear definition of what they expect from us. So that way, we can meet the requirements of that city."