Last call Thursday at Elgin eatery Villa Verone
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media September 9, 2013 1:52PM
Pietro Verone sings to guests during a "Person of the Week" event in 2010 at his Villa Verone restaurant in downtown Elgin. The restaurant announced it is closing this week. | Sun-Times Media file photo
Updated: October 11, 2013 6:12AM
ELGIN — After announcing via Facebook on Monday that Sunday was Villa Verone’s last day of business in downtown Elgin, owner Pietro Verone decided he couldn’t quite leave the location he opened 5½ years ago without one more party.
The restaurant at 13 Douglas Ave. will briefly reopen to host its last Elgin Person of the Week beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday to thank those who have supported the business, Verone said. The bar will be open, although the kitchen will not.
The decision was hard to make but had been coming for more than a year, he said.
“It started over a year ago. It seemed like there was more traffic when the streets were broken up than when they were finished,” he said.
Downtown city streets were under construction for several years as part of Elgin’s downtown Tax Increment Finance district redevelopment. Many people who don’t regularly come downtown didn’t realize the construction has been finished for a while now, he said.
While he had success with the Elgin Person of the Week and Elgin Non-Profit of the Week promotions, there was not enough business to keep the doors open, he said.
“‘Person of’ was an idea that Victor Gonzalez and I came up with,” Verone said. “He and I sat down, and we discussed what we could do to bring people downtown. He was really into downtown. He came up with the Person of the Week.”
Gonzalez, owner of Elgin Jewelers, passed away in December 2011 after a battle with cancer.
On most Thursday nights, one high-profile person in the community — from politician to police, business owners to volunteers — were recognized.
Then, once a month, Verone added Non-Profit of the Week as a way for organizations to raise funds.
The first nonprofit event raised $1,500 for the Community Crisis Center, including $768 donated by to Verone to match what was raised at the event, said Kari Sheppard, crisis center event coordinator.
“Then, the next day, an anonymous donor came in with another $3,000 for us. To this day we don’t who it was,” Sheppard said.
“We are sad. It was a fun event and great support from a local restaurant, and we are sad to see them go,” she said of the restaurant’s closing.
The Downtown Neighborhood Association also expressed its remorse.
“We are saddened to hear that Villa Verone will be closing their doors,” said Executive Director Deirdre White. “Pietro Verone, Willy Mathias and the Villa Verone team have brought good food, good friends and great support to the Elgin community.”
“Villa Verone has made an economic impact to Downtown Elgin … and has been an exceptional neighbor for the last 5½ years,” White said in a prepared statement. “The DNA recognizes that they not only know what it means to be a good neighbor, friend and community supporter, but they always give it their all to make Downtown Elgin a better place to be. Villa Verone Elgin surely will be missed. We wish the best for Pietro and the Villa Verone family.”
The decision to close was entirely a financial one, Verone said.
“It is common in this business” to see restaurants close, he said. “You can only take so much money from your own pocket. It didn’t seem feasible to support two places out of one restaurant.”
There also is a Villa Verone in Geneva, which will remain open, he added.
Elgin’s downtown is trying to build, and he does see that continuing, he said.
The Martini Room, Chooch’s Pizza, the Elgin Public House, and Toom Toom Thai owners are all trying to make that happen, Verone said.
“I don’t have the funds to stick around and see if it does happen,” he added.
Although while not laying blame, the new city 3 percent tax on alcohol also hurt the bottom line, he said, as did not having a city-sponsored performance season at the Hemmens Cultural Arts Center.
His accountant charged him extra to separate out the 3 percent liquor tax, and it did cause other bookkeeping costs, Verone said.
Neither were people coming to eat before shows.
“Whenever we had a show, we had people come in before the show started,” Verone said.
Even with Elgin Symphony Orchestra performances, they didn’t see large turnouts, he added.
“I don’t know if they don’t have the money to spend … but let’s face it, the last five or six years the economy hasn’t been the best,” and people are eating out less, he added.
While the last Person of the Week at Villa Verone will happen Thursday, he also hopes that other downtown locations pick up where they left off, Verone added.
“Everyone is doing their part. It is a nice downtown ... maybe two years from now, it will be a totally different place,” Verone said.
Still, the friendships he formed in Elgin made the decision — although financial — harder to swallow, Verone said.
“I had a rough night Sunday, but at midnight I said, ‘OK, I will put it out there.’ I wanted to put a sign on the window Sunday … but I couldn’t do it,” Verone said.
“So on Thursday night, we will be there. We will sing, we will dance, we will do everything we did for 5½ years. We can look back in the fun we had.”