OSWEGO, IL — A cornerstone in the economic growth of downtown Oswego for over a decade, the Tap House Grill is getting a much-needed renovation with the help of the village. During its Aug. 4 meeting, the village board approved an economic incentive and loan agreement worth $100,000 with the owners.
Owners Scott Ward and Mark Zych began the process in April with Corinne Cole, the village’s now-former economic development director. The process involved basic planning, use of funds, legal documents, and due diligence for the village. With Cole’s departure in late July, Village Administrator Dan Di Santo was “our go-to for the final approval from the board,” Zych said.
Under terms of the agreement, the village will issue a $20,000 economic incentive award and an $80,000 loan from the village’s Revolving Loan Fund to Tap House Grill. According to the loan agreement terms, the restaurant owners will repay the $80,000 loan over five years at 3 percent interest.
“It feels good to get good news, which is a little hard to come by these days,” Zych said. “It is great to feel supported by the village and to know that we can continue to serve the community.”
He said that the eatery needed a face-lift but never had the time or the financial means to get it done.
“With statewide shutdown, it gave us the ‘opportunity’ to still get minimal revenue but be shut down enough to do all the updates that really freshened up the unit,” he said.
In anticipation of the funds being approved, the first phase of the remodeling began in June with rebuilding of the bar — adding customer outlets for USB charging and a new granite bar top. Phase two was painting and adding new wood trim all the way around the bar, dinning room and the private dinning room.
“During that time, we freshened up the bathrooms with new paint fixtures and lighting,” Zych said. “We did close for three days in June to have a new epoxy floor installed in the kitchen. After installing new chandeliers, we brought in new tables, chairs and bar stools.”
Even though the renovations were “purely cosmetic,” Zych said it was a “breath of fresh air for a store that hadn’t seen an update in 12 years. “
“The best part is the feedback from our guests,” he said. “We hear everything from, ‘We love it all’ to ‘Scott and Mark … it’s about time.’ My favorite comment was, ‘I can’t wait to drink on this bar, when it’s legal again.'”
In a memo to the board, village staff noted that Tap House has been “essential to the economic health of the downtown for many years. Even as new restaurants and shops open in the coming year, it is critical to downtown’s success as a destination that the Tap House remain and continue to thrive as both a familiar favorite and excellent dining option.”
According to village documents, the owners approached village officials in March to request financial assistance for a planned renovation of the restaurant. Zych said that they will be renovating the basement of the property to potentially bring back additional event space and reviving a comedy club that was formerly located there, without losing the “Tap House feel.”
Like many other restaurants, the Tap House also faced several challenges during the pandemic. It had to lay off a lot of staff but brought them back “as quickly as we could as the sales permitted,” he said.
“Our goal was always to make sure they had a business to come back to,” Zych said. “The work we got done before the funding was mostly IOUs to companies we have great relationships with, money from our other sites, and Scott and I running up some hefty personal credit card debt. We partnered with Phoenix Builders and Teschner Painting, who have been valued team members over the years and donated some labor for this project.”
The eatery is now open for patio and indoor dining, and everyone is following the mandates laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state, he said.
“We sanitize tables and chairs after every use, offer sanitizer at the door, use paper menus, and space all dinning parties 6 feet apart,” he said. “Our staff is happy to serve you even if you can’t see their smile behind the mask.”
With coronavirus cases on the rise again, Illinois could move back a phase or two in its reopening plan, putting the Tap House’s business at risk, especially with a hefty loan to repay. But Zych said as risky as this is, “it would be more risky for us to think we could survive without the remodel.”
Every single day as a business owner is a risk, he said, and with three new restaurants coming to downtown Oswego, they had to step up their games.
“Tap House is a concept that can live on for a long time, but you can’t rest on your past success. If we do have to shut down, so will everyone else,” he said. “We will do what we need to survive. Running a restaurant during these times is a lot less about winning the race and a lot more about being the last man standing. We get a lot of support from our community and our leaders, and that gives our 30-something employees of Tap House a good-looking future, even now.”
Tap House had opened in 2008 with the idea of being a community-centered, upscale-yet-casual restaurant with “addictive food and creative brew,” Zych said.
“What makes us unique is our people,” he said. “Saying that we have regulars is kind of an understatement. Our staff is what makes Tap House fun and special. Having 40 craft beers on draft doesn’t hurt, either.”
During the meeting, the board also unanimously approved a request for a video gaming license for the restaurant. Plans call for four video game terminals and an ATM to be located in a partitioned area in the restaurant bar. Two dining tables were lost to accommodate the gaming space.
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This article originally appeared on the Oswego Patch