DeKALB – Bill McMahon said when he moved The Lincoln Inn restaurant's operations to Faranda's Banquet Center down the street at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, he didn't realize it'd be a permanent transition.
Now, after months of operating both the banquet hall and the family restaurant in the same building, he knows it can be done.
McMahon announced this week he'll be permanently relocating the Inn from its longtime spot downtown at 240 E. Lincoln Highway to Faranda's at 302 Grove Street to keep everything under one roof and save some overhead money. He said the decision was a direct result of the pandemic and its financial impacts on his businesses during shutdown, with ongoing mandates requiring social distancing among other things inside dining rooms.
He said it's a simple solution: he can safely fit more patrons in the 15,000-square-foot Faranda's than the 4,000-square-foot Lincoln Inn building.
"Last week my wife and I talked about it, we prayed about it, too, and we just thought 'This will work'", McMahon said Tuesday.
The businesses will remain open full-time during the transition, with banquets and other events as they come in offered in Faranda's, and the Lincoln Inn operating as it has been but at Faranda's, with an outside dining area with covered seating, curbside pickup available with more parking, and socially-distanced inside seating. The McMahons placed 240 E. Lincoln Highway up for sale, listed for $360,000. The tables, kitchen items and other things will remain in the building, McMahon said, so if another restaurateur wants to purchase the space and turn it into something else, they'd be able to get all that equipment include in the buy.
Bill and wife Joy McMahon purchased the building and Lincoln Inn business at 240 E. Lincoln Highway in 1994 for $230,000. The restaurant was opened May 21, 1979 by founders John and Polly Arhos.
He said a recent busy day at Faranda's – where they've been serving dine-in and outside seating patrons since Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan allowed restaurants to reopen – showed them the pandemic setup could actually work long term.
"Last Sunday, for some reason it was crazy busy, and what happened was the patio and inside seating was nice and full," he said. He said there were at least 3 different groups of 20-plus people, and he realized he could have never seated them all at the Lincoln Inn, but could at Faranda's.
"So I just thought, if God's trying to send us a sign, this was it," he said. "There's other opportunities here, it's fun to dream about it. I really do think this is an opportunity not just for my family, but I think we can do a great job here with our customers."
He said he wouldn't be averse if the buyer of the downtown Lincoln Inn building wanted to put a restaurant in there named The Lincoln Inn, to pay homage to its history, but that would be a conversation for later down the road. The businesses on Grove Street will remain named The Lincoln Inn at Faranda's, and Faranda's Banquet Center.
With downtown DeKalb on the up and up, McMahon said, he doesn't think it will be difficult to find a buyer for the Lincoln Highway space. Prior to the pandemic, he said his sales were up 20% because of increased foot traffic downtown. He hopes to get back up to that revenue stream by 2021.
"I have to believe it's because there are people living downtown, and people coming downtown so our foot traffic is up," McMahon said. "When the Egyptian Theatre has an act downtown, everybody rock and rolls. I kind of wish I was closer to the Egyptian Theatre, but whoever ends up at 240 E. Lincoln Highway will be set."
Weddings and other events are also a go, and he welcomes any who wish to book. He said many canceled or rescheduled their events this year to next year, though some amended their wedding from 120 people to 50.
"We just booked a wedding for Oct. 2 of next year," he said. "We're still doing the weddings that are planned for this year but everything is scaled back. Weddings are typically Saturday night, and I close the dining room portion of the Lincoln Inn business so the wedding gets the place to themselves."
He said the early months of the pandemic left him nervous for the future of his operations, but he's been able to find some solutions in all of this.
"What was scary about this was in March, April May, all those months when normally we're booking for the next year, there was not that many people looking," McMahon said.
Other logistics for the move are already complete since The Lincoln Inn moved operations to Faranda's. McMahon said they've installed a new point of sale tablet system for patrons to purchase food as they dine, the kitchen was overhauled to be able to accommodate not just banquet cooking but the restaurant-style cooking needed to make The Lincoln Inn's famed omelets, bacon, cinnamon rolls, and other brunch menu items.
He said while he's excited for the future, the move is bittersweet, due to the Lincoln Inn's long history as a downtown DeKalb staple.
"Our family believes that we can continue to provide the DeKalb community enjoyable dining experiences and can do it even better in our new location," McMahon said. "This is an opportunity for someone new in our community who has always dreamed of owning a restaurant or a business in a vibrant downtown."