When Lacey Mizell opened Tom-n-Lou’s 34 Drive-In in February 2021, she knew running a successful restaurant out of the 700-square-foot space at 8819 Ogden Ave. was going to be a tall order.
But she also knew the Ogden Avenue corridor brought tens of thousands of vehicles past the building each day and that the restaurant probably wouldn’t be what eventually would succeed there.
Last week, Mizell told the Landmark that after getting a clear message from the village that her wish to obtain a video gambling license was not going to be granted, she may look at demolishing the existing building and redeveloping the property, ideally as multifamily residential.
“I’m going to pursue a different highest and best use of that property,” said Mizell, who hoped to meet with village planning staff in the near future.
The property at 8819 Ogden Ave. is part of the C-1 commercial zoning district, which includes Ogden Avenue from Custer Avenue to Deyo Avenue. The zoning code allows a wide variety of commercial uses for the site.
Emily Egan, the village’s community development director, said a strictly residential project in the C-1 district would require a zoning variance, although multifamily residential would be allowed as part of a mixed-use development.
“To get that site to where that would be feasible, it’d be quite an investment, but I’m happy to talk about it with her,” Egan said.
Fairly early on, Mizell made it clear what she really wanted to make Tom-n-Lou’s work as a profitable business was a license for video gambling machines, something Brookfield allows in restaurants and bars that have held a liquor license for a year.
She got that liquor license in late June 2021. At the time, she told the Landmark, “I would like to make it a cool lounge area, a hip spot to do gaming.”
Mizell then almost immediately closed Tom-n-Lou’s for renovation, scaling back the kitchen to allow room up front for video gambling machines.
The one-year anniversary for Mizell obtaining a liquor license would have come this summer. Mizell applied to the Illinois Gaming Board in May for a video gambling license. She followed suit in Brookfield in July, and she had hoped to get before the Brookfield Village Board in September or October to put her local application to a vote.
The village, however, has made it clear that’s not going to happen. Since allowing video gambling in 2012, village officials have been clear that they will not allow standalone video gambling cafes.
While gaming cafes are not specifically banned in the village code, any business seeking a video gambling license must operate without one for at least one year after being granted a liquor license, reasoning that a business must be viable without gambling as its primary source of revenue.
In a letter sent to Mizell on Sept. 26, Village President Michael Garvey informed her that because Tom-n-Lou’s had not sold any liquor for more than 30 days, the village had terminated her liquor license for dormancy, effectively killing her gambling license quest.
Mizell says she was never explicitly told that her plan to obtain a video gambling license was fruitless and said she was clear to village officials about her desire to get one.
“It’s been no secret,” Mizell said. “No one said, ‘Don’t waste your time and money on this.’”
Garvey told the Landmark that the village’s position on gaming cafes has been clear. In 2015, village trustees amended the village code to add the one-year wait for new liquor license holders in response to inquiries about opening gambling cafes in vacant storefronts.
“We made it clear that we wanted to limit it,” Garvey said. “We don’t want any storefront type [gambling cafes].”
Mizell said she hoped to continue the process of obtaining a video gambling license from the state, though she’ll have to find another location for that business.
Tom-n-Lou’s has operated sporadically since it closed for renovation in summer 2021. It reopened with a new menu last April, but hours were irregular, and it eventually gave way. In September, a breakfast/lunch/coffee concept called Kurb, run by one of Mizell’s employees and serving up a vegan menu, started operating out of the space.
Kurb doesn’t appear to have much of a future. After virtually no sales last week, Kurb’s owner was expected to shut down for at least a week to rethink the concept, according to Mizell.