Taproom closed for two days as future is in limbo; Pickleman’s Pantry could be moving to different location
QUINCY — The Taproom and Cafe, 104 N. Sixth, was closed Monday, will be closed again Tuesday, and its future is uncertain.
The building is owned by Michele Wilkerson, who also owns the property at 601 Maine that was home to the former Grown ’n Gathered specialty food store. She announced in May that her store would be converted into a Pickleman’s Pantry Organic Test Kitchen. Doug Stritzel is the owner of the Pickleman’s Pantry franchise, which now has 24 locations and five more in development after opening the first restaurant in 2005.
A Monday afternoon press release about the Taproom and Cafe from Caroline Niemann, director of marketing for Pickleman’s Franchising, read that “we are currently reorganizing and cleaning the space. We’ll continue to keep our community updated on a reopening date that will feature an exciting refresh.”
Stritzel said any announcement about a permanent closing of the Taproom was “out of context.”
“Monday and Tuesday are slower days (at the Taproom), so we’re going to try to reorganize the bar and take inventory,” Stritzel said. “We’re going to meet Wednesday look at the metrics and see if it makes sense to open on Wednesday through Saturday, or if it’s just a Friday-Saturday thing or something of that nature. It’s a little premature to say that it’s going away for good. We want to clean it. We want to look at maybe a possible rebranding.
“Hey, COVID happened, right? A lot of people are struggling. It’s about making sure we’re not trying to do more than what we really can do well, and maybe we can only run the bar well with the staff we have for three or four days a week versus five or six. It’s really looking at the process, trying to tighten up and make sure that we’re not losing money and that we’re working within the right direction.
“I hope my brand brings a little bit of love, a little bit of peace and some joy here. Certainly, that’s my intention.”
The Taproom was open from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 1 p.m. Saturday. It was closed on Sunday.
Chris Austin became the general manager three months after the restaurant and bar opened four years ago.
“We have been struggling since COVID,” Austin said. “We were able to stay open during COVID, which was a great, great thing, but it was just one thing after the other. Corporate comes in and they tear out the kitchen, and we never got chance to put that back in. You have the loss of food, and just a lot of things happened.”
Austin said sales have been down for the past couple of months. He also said he was given an opportunity to buy the business himself.
“It was originally told to me, ‘Hey, Chris, you’re the one who built this. It’s been my money, but you build everything that it is. And so I’m giving you the opportunity to buy it,’ ” Austin said. “But I couldn’t swing it. I tried to swing investors and so forth who are still on the fence.”
“Everything’s for sale,” Stritzel said. “I know there’s somebody who Chris had spoke with who was interested in perhaps buying the bar. Where that’s at in the negotiations, I don’t care to disclose. We don’t have to sell it, but we can.”
Austin had tears running down his cheeks as he spoke Monday afternoon, saying he believed he had built the Taproom into “more than a bar.” As an example, Illinois Democratic Party Chairman and Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-Illinois) visited the Taproom last Friday to meet with local Democrats to encourage participation in local government at all levels.
“I helped bring the clientele here and set the tone for the place,” Austin said. “We had a Congresswoman in here, a guy with a dress, black, white, middle aged, younger, older, poor, rich, business owners to blue collar. Everybody felt welcome. Something magical was happening at this bar.
“It’s emotional. I know what this place means to people.”
The former Grown ’n Gathered store remains empty. Stritzel said his company remains committed to bringing a Pickleman’s Pantry to Quincy, but it could be in a different location.
“I can’t disclose where, but we will have a drive-thru restaurant in this town,” he said. “It might not be on everybody’s timeframe, but business and things take time. I’m growing a large franchise company, and everything’s going really well for us, so it’s a balancing act.
“We also are committed to doing an organic food pantry. Whether it’s (at 601 Maine) or not, we’re not sure. There’s some challenges with the floor and the infrastructure of the building. It looks simpler than what it is from the cover. When you open it up and turn a few pages, you realize you’ve got some challenges in this complex here that are bigger than what might meet the eye.”
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