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PAXTON — Ever since Silvia Rodriguez and her husband, Nahum, bought Paxton’s longest-operating restaurant several years ago, the need for more space in the small downtown cafe was apparent.
“Sometimes I’ll have to let people go because we don’t have a place to sit them on weekends,” said Silvia Rodriguez, who manages the Arcade Cafe & Pancake House. “I always used to say (from the time we took over the business) that I hope some building next to us, either one, can sell the building to us so we can expand this place.”
Today, as Rodriguez put it, “it looks like my dream is coming true.”
The Rodriguezes have applied for a loan through the city’s revolving-loan fund that, if awarded, would help them buy the vacant building directly north of the cafe. Silvia Rodriguez said the low-interest loan would allow them to double the size of the cafe, located at 132 N. Market St., by expanding it into about 2,500 square feet of retail space at 138 N. Market St., which until June had housed Sav-Mor Pharmacy.
The sale of the building, along with the planned expansion, are all contingent upon the approval of the loan by the city’s revolving-loan fund committee and the Paxton City Council, Rodriguez said.
Mayor Bill Ingold said he preferred not to comment on the loan request until after both entities meet to discuss it. According to a legal notice published in today’s Paxton Record, the city plans on Sept. 21 to request the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to approve the release of federal funds in the city’s revolving-loan fund for the Arcade Cafe expansion project.
Neither Ingold nor Rodriguez would disclose the amount of the loan requested, but Rodriguez did say that the loan would help pay for about half of the cost to buy the building from its owner, Andy Hudson.
The Arcade, a popular breakfast and lunch spot in the heart of the city’s downtown, would use the extra space for overflow seating, particularly during weekends when the cafe is busiest. The space would also be used as a banquet hall to accommodate larger gatherings as special events such as birthday parties or club meetings are held, for example. Besides plenty of seating, there would be a small dance floor and space for a disc jockey, she said.
The new space would also feature a small bar that would serve beer and wine, Rodriguez said. The Arcade would need to apply for a liquor license from the city to make that happen, she said.
“A lot of people, when they ask for Mexican food (on the menu), they like to have that (Corona Modelo) also,” Rodriguez noted.
Rodriguez said the revolving loan would help pay for the purchase of the building, but the loan would not help fund the interior remodeling that would be necessary for the expansion. Rather, that work, which is estimated to cost between $15,000 and $30,000, would be done entirely using private funds and a separate loan from a bank, she said.
The remodeling would involve the installation of two doorways on the north wall of the cafe to gain access to the new space — one, for the public, near where the cash register is currently located; the other, for waitress staff, immediately next to the kitchen window.
There would also be drywall installed on the walls of the new space, and the walls would be painted. Carpet would also be installed, Rodriguez said.
The work is expected to begin as soon as the real estate transaction is finalized, she said.
Rodriguez said she and the few customers she has told about the project are excited about it.
“We do need the extra space,” she said. “Like on the weekends, we’ve got big groups coming in or sometimes people wanting reservations for 30 or 40 or more people ... so this way, we can keep more customers (instead of having to turn them away).”
The Arcade employs five people, including three full time, and Rodriguez said there are no plans to hire more employees due to the expansion.
The city’s revolving-loan fund, which contains a balance of $644,676, typically is used to create or retain local jobs, granting businesses up to $15,000 per job created or retained. However, there have been other ways revolving loans have been used, as well, including infrastructure improvements for the benefit of local manufacturing plants. It was not immediately clear if Paxton’s revolving-loan fund has ever been used for land acquisition before.
City Attorney Bob Martensen said the city would likely require that it has an interest on the mortgage on the building if the loan is made.
The Arcade is the longest-operating restaurant in Paxton, although it has had various owners over the decades. Some of its customers have been coming to the cafe for 60 to 70 years, Rodriguez said.
“We’ve got good people, a lot of loyal customers,” she said. “It’s like a family over here. One day, when one (customer) doesn’t show up (at the time he or she usually does), we’re looking for them, ya know?”
The cafe is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. Rodriguez said an expansion of the cafe’s operational hours might be considered depending on how business goes.