Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Two New Restaurants Target Marion

Marion is losing one but gaining two new restaurants.

The Southern Illinoisan broke the story Sunday in the business section that long-time steakhouse Ruby Tuesday will be closing when their lease runs out this fall in the Illinois Centre Mall.

Over the last decade or so the chain has focused more on stand-alone eateries, though there is no word yet as to whether they plan to build a new restaurant in Marion.

Their space in the mall won't stay empty for long. Gourmet Chef Jim Halpin, formerly with Kokopelli and the Rend Lake Resort, has been planning his own steakhouse for the site, Halpin's Great American Chop Shop.

Mall Manager Bob Hardy told The Southern a bit about Halpin I did not know.

"He used to cook for Jerry Garcia (the late performer with The Grateful Dead rock group) and has had articles written about his work in Bon App├ętit magazine."

Jim contacted me at my job with the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office a couple of months ago for some economic data about the region.

One of the surprising statistics that I found was that Williamson County residents eat out more than in surrounding counties. Maybe it's the large number of restaurants, or it may simple be due to the fact that a higher percent of county residents work and can either better afford to eat out, or don't have the time to cook at home.

The other new restaurant is another I've known about for some time, in part because it's locating about 50 feet behind my desk in the former Phar-Mor anchor store of the Illinois Centre Mall.

Pirate Pete's Family Entertainment Center promises to be a twist between a Chuck E. Cheese and a Dave and Buster's. It includes not only food, but fun, lots of it, in terms of video games and laser tag.

Like Halpin's eatery, this one will be locally owned as well. Sesser native Eugene "Ditto" Basso plans to open by mid-November.

"It's somewhat similar to Chuck E. Cheese's and Dave & Buster's, but not exactly. Our restaurant will be separate from the game room divided by a large saltwater aquarium. Chuck E. Cheese appeals mainly to children 12 and under, while Dave & Buster's is designed more for adults. We're going to try to reach a happy medium with Pirate Pete's. I've already hired a chef consultant out of Philadelphia. I will have meals that a family watching its budget can afford," Basso told the Southern.

Congratulations go out to both men.

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