DeKALB – After 35 years in the restaurant business, Mel and Deborah Witmer say they plan to retire and close O’Leary’s Irish Pub & Grill later this month.
Last call at O’Leary’s, 260 E. Lincoln Highway, will be Nov. 17. The property is listed for sale for $975,000.
Mel Witmer, 55, said they do not have a buyer or tenant for the 8,700-square-foot, three-story building. He said it was time for the couple to step back rather than try to reinvent themselves as restaurateurs, but he’s hoping that a savvy entrepreneur will come forward to take over the space.
“Someone just needs to invent themselves and get acclimated to the community,” Mel Witmer said.
The move comes after the Witmers sold Upper Deck Sports Bar & Grill, now Hometown Sports Bar & Grill, in February 2011 and Tapa La Luna in February 2012 to focus on running O’Leary’s.
Mel Witmer said he and Deborah had lived in Nevada before, but came back to Illinois to raise their children. He said he has been commuting between the two states after Deborah moved to Nevada a few years ago, and not a lot of his family remains in the area.
“It’s been kind of a strain,” Mel Witmer said. “So that was a major motivation.”
Mel Witmer said business at the restaurant has been good with a lot of local support, despite the shrinking student population at Northern Illinois University. He said there still is a lot of opportunity for a restaurant to be successful in the space, especially if the new owner continues to offer the additional banquet space for community use.
“I hope someone will embrace that side of the business and continue that tradition,” Mel Witmer said.
Most of all, Mel Witmer said he doesn’t want anyone to think that he has given up on downtown DeKalb. He said he thinks the area has a lot of potential for businesses to thrive, and he hopes that the new owner won’t give up on downtown, either.
“I think it’s at a crossroads, if you will,” Mel Witmer said.
Jo Ellen Charlton, director of community development for the city of DeKalb, said the property is in the existing central area tax increment financing district and would be in the proposed new TIF district. She said there’s potential TIF funding available to investors, depending on what they want to do with the building.
“It’s been a great place for downtown DeKalb, and I think there’s some great opportunity for somebody to take advantage of,” Charlton said.