Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Greg Peck: A few thoughts on shuffle of Janesville restaurants

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Greg Peck
July 3, 2015

It has been quite a week for stories about changes in local restaurants. Some people might question how these reports are news instead of advertising, but the number of views such stories get on our website shows readers want this news.

Last Friday, we brought news that Aglio Restaurant, in the former Speakeasy building at 19 N. High St., was closing and that Anita Karl, former Speakeasy owner who still owns the building, hoped to reopen an as-of-yet unnamed restaurant there by mid-July.

On Tuesday, we reported on that night's “last call” at Spirits, 2710 W. Court St. Jeff and Nancy Hassinger were closing the place after 33 years in the bar and restaurant business. In place of Spirits, Barkley's Burgers, Brew and Dawgs would open yet this week.

On Wednesday, readers learned Denny's would be returning to Janesville. The Denny's at 632 Midland Road closed last fall, and a different franchise owner hopes to open at 2020 Milton Ave. this fall. The new location is in the building that long housed Ponderosa Steakhouse and briefly the Avenue Grill.

There's no shortage of restaurants in Janesville. Perhaps that's why it can be a perilous business venture. Let me share my insights on these three changes.

First, I liked the Italian faire at Aglio. I wished the operators had stayed at their first location, 12 S. Main St. I blogged about it after my wife and I got our first taste. It was a little pricier than Olive Garden, but I appreciated that it wasn't another chain but instead a local place with local operators and right downtown. Yet the service was inconsistent, and I heard complaints about varying hours of operation, as well.

On our second visit, the service was so poor that I when one of the operators came around to ask how things were going, I let him know. He offered to pick up our meal tab if we'd give them another chance. We did so and had no repeat problems.

While the Main Street spot was squeezed, I was skeptical about the move to the much larger Speakeasy. I figured if they didn't market it well enough to keep those banquet rooms filled, they'd be paying for overhead that would create a financial problem. We ate there twice, once taking out-of-town guests. The service was OK, and each time the dining room was far from filled. I soon caught wind of financial troubles. So it didn't surprise me to learn Aglio was closing.

I wish Anita Karl luck in her new restaurant. The Speakeasy is an interesting building with much character; it just needs the capital to properly promote and fill the place while offering good food and service.

As far as Spirits, it has been a couple of years, maybe more, since I had been in the place. I had nothing against it, and learning it was closing left me wishing I had visited more often. But I live on the east side, and so for me this west-side place was “out of sight; out of mind.”

Someone suggested the Barkley's idea, featuring a play yard in out in back for dogs to run while their owners sit inside, seems more suited for an upscale bigger city. It does seem like a clever idea but an odd fit in a city where dogs aren't even allowed in most parks during summers. Still, part-owner Greg Hughes has had success as co-owner of the Bazinga and GameDay bars in Janesville, so maybe he understands the market better than I do.

As for Denny's, I'm sure it will attract a fair share of Janesville's breakfast diners if the operators keep the place tidy and the staff on its toes. Interestingly enough, a new Culver's—Janesville's third—is being built across Midland Road from where the former Denny's operated. The Culver's owners expect to open Oct. 1, the same day that Milton Avenue Denny's hopes to open. I don't know about you, but I'm more likely to patronize the new Culver's than the new Denny's. Still, I wish the new owners of that Denny's good luck.


Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or [email protected]. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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