JOLIET – News of Joliet Junior College moving forward with the process to acquire the property Chicken-N-Spice sits on came as a surprise for the restaurant’s owner.
It also was a big shock for many customers, who asked on social media where the restaurant would relocate in the event JJC acquires the property, which sits next to the college’s City Center campus building.
Lety Torres, Chicken-N-Spice store manager, said that when the news hit Aug. 13, a Saturday, the response was overwhelming. By the next evening, the restaurant was out of chicken chunks.
“We never run out of chicken chunks,” she said.
The good news for worried Chicken-N-Spice fans is that its lease on the property, owned by the Roberts family, isn’t up until 2022. Ken Roberts, a member of the family, declined to comment on the deal.
JJC spokeswoman Kelly Rohder wrote in an email that the college plans to acquire the property with every intention of honoring the restaurant’s current lease agreement. She has said JJC does not yet have a finalized timeline on acquisition of the property.
But the question for Pat Reimer, owner of Chicken-N-Spice, is where the restaurant will move once the lease is up. The restaurant has been a downtown fixture and first opened in 1979.
“[JJC] have the power. They do have power and what will become of us? Is the city going to help us relocate?”
Reimer said she wants to keep the restaurant downtown.
“I think we’ve shown our loyalty to the city. I think that now in our time of duress, it would be awesome if somebody would step up to that and say, ‘Yeah, we want to keep Chicken-N-Spice in town,’ ” she said.
Rohder wrote that JJC offered, along with Steve Jones, Joliet’s deputy city manager and economic development director, to help connect Chicken-N-Spice to any relocation opportunities.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said the city would love to keep the restaurant downtown as it is a staple of the area and he had no doubt the elected officials in the future would like to work with a great partner such as Chicken-N-Spice.
Discussion of JJC’s interest in acquiring the property took place May 12 between the Reimers, Roberts family members, Jones, JJC Interim President Judy Mitchell and Board Chairman Robert Wunderlich, Rohder wrote.
JJC has been interested in developing the surrounding site of the City Center campus building – slated to open January 2017 – to create more parking for students and develop a pedestrian mall for site beautification.
Reimer said she was surprised when she read in The Herald-News that the JJC board on Aug. 9 approved moving forward with the acquisition process of the property.
“We absolutely did not even have a hint of anything that was going on,” she said.
Torres said she would have liked to have attended the Aug. 9 board meeting if she had known about it.
Reimer said it wasn’t until after the news came out that Mitchell contacted her and said JJC was not going to “throw [the restaurant] out” and college officials wanted to continue being good neighbors and provide support.
Rohder wrote that on June 16, Mitchell let the Reimers know appraisal of the property had been scheduled, so they were aware the process was moving forward.
Reimer said she knew about the appraisals as they were discussed at the May meeting, but she couldn’t remember being contacted about it.
News of the acquisition has left employees of Chicken-N-Spice concerned.
Torres, who has been at Chicken-N-Spice for 15 years, said the restaurant hires a lot of college and high school students. She said there’s a good employee longevity rate because it accommodates students’ schedules. Reimer said many of them are encouraged to attend JJC.
She also said Reimer has done much for the community through donations and supporting the local high schools and churches.
“This is our livelihood, and so what are people going to do to help us?” Torres asked.