ALTAMONT — The owner of El Rancherito restaurant in Effingham wants to open one in Altamont in the former Dairy Bar building — as long as the restaurant can get a liquor license.
That request sparked debate during a city council meeting on Monday. One resident, Alvin Oliver, was concerned about serving liquor next to Schmidt Park and raised concerns about traffic.
“You get somebody that is not as sharp as they should be backing out on 128, you’re gonna have a lot of screeching tires out there,” Oliver said. “It looks like you’re asking for a lot of liability.”
“The intent of the custard stand was for the enjoyment of the people in the park,” Oliver said. “We’re now commercializing it more and more and I think you’re asking for trouble.”
Kevin Schultz, representing the Schultz family, who owns the Dairy Bar building while the city owns the ground and parking lot, said it is not the intent of the prospective new business to turn the Dairy Bar into a bar.
“It is a restaurant that offers alcohol. The liquor license that is being requested is not to deviate from the beauty of the park,” he said.
Daniel Angel Onate appeared at the meeting on behalf of his wife, Josefina Jacinto Riviera, who would be the owner of the Altamont restaurant if the sale is complete. Riviera owns the El Rancherito restaurants in Effingham, Charleston, Salem and Mt. Vernon.
Onate co-owns several restaurants with his younger brother, Austine Angel Onate, including the Puerto Vallarta, Effingham; Rancho Nuevo, Vandalia; El Vaquero, Mattoon; El Rancherito, Olney; and Puerto Vallarta, Newton.
“To have this entity coming to Altamont would be a testimony of what we have to offer,” Schultz said.
“The days of the custard stand, we operated it for 31 years and we had a great run, but that is not the direction we choose to go for anymore,” he said.
At least one resident seemed unconcerned about the prospect of a liquor license.
“The VFW has been butted up to the park forever, and there’s never been an incident,” said Carol Clarkson.
Schultz said the restaurant would be well-managed and would not serve anyone too much alcohol.
Alvin Schultz told the council the restaurant’s alcohol sales in Effingham amount to less than 20 percent of its business.
“That is not a big deal,” Kevin Schultz added. “Change is good, folks.”
Commissioner Tayler Polk asked the Schultzes’ if they planned to rent the Dairy Bar building or sell it.
“We have the paperwork with us to sell the Dairy Bar,” Kevin Schultz said.
Asked by Commissioner Todd Slingerland whether there were plans to expand the current building, Onate said there are not.
Slingerland also asked if the restaurant was going to be solely a Mexican restaurant. Slingerland said the whole premise of the Dairy Bar was to satisfy grandma and grandpa so they could get their grandkids soda and everything else.
“Those days are over,” Alvin Schultz said.
“They do sell fried ice cream,” Kevin Schultz said.
“Listen to your younger generation when they hear the rumors of a possible El Rancherito restaurant coming to Altamont,” Kevin Schultz said. “It’s exciting guys.”
“This is a chance for growth,” Schultz said. “This is a chance to bring a well-known restaurant that’s established to our community. This is something to get excited about.”
Bernadine Blakely, the daughter of Arnold Schmidt, who donated the land to Altamont for Schmidt Park, also spoke at the meeting.
“I’m in favor of businesses coming to Altamont,” Blakely said. “If they really want to come to Altamont, they’ll come.”
But she added, “I am not in favor of serving liquor in the park. We have enough drinking places around.”
Blakely said she had talked to a lot of people in the community and they were not in favor of drinking in the park.
“This is a city park and I don’t believe we need any liquor in the city park,” Blakely said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people and they feel the same way.”
“There are still reunions going on at the park,” Blakely added.
Commissioner Michael Walker raised the question of parking.
“When we were there with Deb’s Catering, at one time we had 19 vans with the vending and all of our employees,” Alvin Schultz said. “There was more than ample parking space there.”
Alvin Schultz presented the council three signed copies of the purchase agreement to sell the Dairy Bar to the owners of the El Rancherito.
Mayor Jason Rippetoe said it would be hard to make any kind of decision without the commissioner of the parks, Dan Milleville, who was not present at the meeting due to family issues.
Slingerland moved to table the liquor license approval until the council gets more information on the lease agreement and clarification.
“I know Dan wants to be a part of the conversation,” Walker said. “He is the park’s commissioner and I know he has some insights. I don’t think it would be right to move forward until he is back.”
Rippetoe said he had only talked to the city attorney, Tracy Willenborg, about subleasing the property and not about the selling of the property because he only found out about the sale of the building the day of the meeting.
“We can’t do anything on the lease tonight,” Rippetoe said. “Because it’s not on the agenda.”
Rippetoe said it would be tabled until the next meeting. He said if Milleville was not able to make the next meeting, the council would still vote on it.
The next Altamont City Council meeting is scheduled for Sept. 23.