Restaurant openings across Tri-Cities fuel a rebound as new tech finds its niche

Restaurant openings across Tri-Cities fuel a rebound as new tech finds its niche

With the potential for less COVID havoc this summer, we're likely to be out more. Recent data from the National Restaurant Association projects sales at restaurants could reach $997 billion by the end of 2023.

That's well into double-digit percentage increases from previous COVID years.

With such a positive forecast, it's not surprising to see a significant increase in new restaurants in the Tri-Cities region. It's as many new options as we've seen since the dawn of strip-mall retail locations that showcased restaurants as anchors in the 1980s and '90s.

But does it carry a bad-news scenario? Yes, if you don't have the staff to sustain these new locations.

It's not certain central Kane County is hurting for restaurant servers, chefs and line cooks as badly as other parts of the suburbs, state or nation. Still, the restaurant association's stats on this topic are sobering.

The association reported three years after the pandemic erupted, nearly two million openings remain unfilled in restaurants.

It's unknown whether staff shortages would stifle local operations (and I have to believe they could) when it gets busy this summer. But diners can expect more digital at-table ordering and payment technology to help ease some of that pain.

With that technology, servers can handle more tables without taking initial orders. In many ways, this is the silver lining for the restaurant industry and diners seeking the key factors of great food, service and clean atmospheres.

"The technology platforms have evolved into their third or fourth generations around mobile ordering and payments, which is really the centerpiece for improving the efficiency, effectiveness and customer service at restaurants," said Richard Crone, a California-based analyst helping restaurants nationwide harness digital and mobile advancements.

The technology helps restaurant owners embrace a new era in dining, many with short-handed staff, while also addressing how to use the staff they have more efficiently, Crone noted.

"There is a terrible shortage of workers," Crone acknowledges. "And it's the need for qualified staff. That's the hard part."

But new technology is not about reducing staff or learning to do without servers, Crone noted.

"The ordering technology definitely increases efficiency and allows innovative experiences, which may include greater personalized attention because servers are not dealing with the mundane (of taking orders)," Crone added.

"One of the pillars of a great dining experience is a clean environment," Crone said. "This allows the restaurant staff to focus on other tasks, the conversational interaction aspect, the food service, and cleaning. All of those things are impacted."

Crone noted that the restaurant sector was hit hard during the pandemic, but it has come out of it "with their eyes open to new technology and thriving with many new restaurants opening."

With that in mind, be prepared to encounter new technology at some of our new restaurants. Be patient with your servers, and we should all enjoy a summer of dining that has been stymied over the past two years.

  Chicken Salad Chick, known for its 12 varieties of chicken salad, recently opened on Randall Road in Batavia. John Starks/, December 2022

And what's in the new lineup? Geneva will add Ella's Italian Pub and The James along Third Street, in addition to the recently opened Alchemist.

Meanwhile, Hacienda Real has opened in the Geneva Commons and some work is finally taking place on the former Claddagh Irish Pub, as breakfast restaurant First Watch looks to open in the Commons.

Burger and Sushi House and The Water Bar have opened on West State Street and Taco Place is a new addition on East State Street.

Poke Burrito recently opened at 17 N. Fourth St., and the Tanna Farms golf course on Hughes Road will see The Pub Maple Park owners soon open Tanna Tap.

A sandwich from Everdine's at their Naperville location. The grill cheese restaurant is opening a spot in downtown Batavia in late spring or early summer. Daily Herald file

Meanwhile, Batavia has added Culver's, Chipotle and Chicken Salad Chick sites along Randall Road.

But a few other things are developing on the restaurant front in Batavia.

Dave's Hot Chicken, which specializes in injecting the sauce of your choice into the meat prior to heating, has received zoning appeals from the city needed to build in the far east part of the Jewel parking lot along Randall Road, according to Scott Buening, the community and economic development director in Batavia.

A plat needs approval, and a permit for the new building is not yet making its way through city government.

In downtown Batavia, an Everdine Grilled Cheese restaurant is likely this late spring or early summer, as owners have a permit for interior renovations at the former Hot Pan restaurant at 227 W. Wilson St. This popular restaurant currently operates a Jefferson Street site in Naperville.

While some local diners hated to hear Tribella owners were closing their restaurant, Acquaviva Winery owners reportedly have purchased that 1900 Mill St. location.

Whether it's simply wishful thinking, there is some street talk that Tribella owners may explore a smaller spot in the future. As of last week, Buening said his department had not seen anything submitted for re-openings or relocations for either of those operations.

St. Charles has diners excited about Duke's Northwoods at 7 E. Main St. and PhoLy, a new Vietnamese restaurant at 305 W. Main.

Whiskey Bend has opened in the former Pub 222 site on West Main, while Fry 'N Wings is serving customers at 610 E. Main St.

Beef Shack, always a popular Italian beef spot among locals, continues to work on its new site at the corner of Randall Road and Main Street.

New bakery shop

In a Facebook post, Deanna Keilty expressed her excitement about opening Gather Bakery with her husband Eric on Friday, May 12 at the Batavia Boardwalk Shops.

After she had her first visit to the small shop the bakery will occupy on the popular boardwalk at 114 E. Wilson St., she had me sold with this comment: "I'm so excited to start filling it with all the fresh breads and cookies!"

Deanna and Eric, who live just outside Rockford with their four children, have had their bakery goods on display at St. Charles and Batavia farmers markets in past years, so this is a new step for them to try to attract more customers.

The concept behind Batavia's Boardwalk Shops is that small business owners can test the waters in their first brick-and-mortar setting before potentially moving to a larger location in downtown Batavia.

As in the past, one of Deanna's teachers has been strongly in her corner and keeps me posted on the progress of Gather Bakery.

Sandra Ranney had young Deanna Pieniazek as a third-grade student at Fox Ridge Elementary in St. Charles, lending much credence to the notion that teachers remain pleased with hearing about their students' successes in life well after their elementary school days are over.

As far as Deanna goes, the ties are a little tighter for Ranney.

"Deanna's late mother, Donna Pieniazek, was a St. Charles District 303 substitute teacher, then an inclusion assistant in my classroom," Ranney said. "And then she taught second grade at Wasco Elementary for many years."

Center gets its name

The Batavia Park District continues to form its strategy for converting the two-story building it purchased at 150 Houston St. two years ago into a community center, but it can start calling the building by name.

The district revealed last week that it would honor longtime park board member and current president Pat Callahan through the creation of the Patrick J. Callahan Community Center.

Over the next two years, Batavia residents will see this building become what the district is calling a "multigenerational community center" that will feature a community room, a child care room, a gathering space for active older adults, a new home for Batavia Access Television and storage for Batavia Depot Museum collections.

The new center is directly across Houston Street from the Depot Museum.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.