Country Club Hills bails out struggling pancake house

February 25, 2010 3:19:51 PM PST
Officials in one suburb have given a struggling restaurant a financial boost during the recession. The Country Club Hills City Council is paying the electric bill for a pancake house in hopes of keeping that restaurant in business.

We have all seen how the federal government has "bailed" out Wall Street, the banks, and the automakers. The boost Chatham Pancake House got from the Village of Country Club Hills is along the same lines only on a smaller scale. Officials there say it's a "creative" approaching to helping a failing business during these tough economic times.

The Chatham Pancake House, 18348 S. Pulaski Road, is owner Leslie Noel's dream come true. But, Thursday morning, he told customers how it almost came to an end if the Village of Country Club Hills hadn't bailed him out by paying an overdue $7,200 electric bill.

"The mayor comes in all the time. He supports the business. I said, 'Well, the worst he can do is say no'," said Noel.

The village's city council voted 6-to-2 to get the lights back on for the struggling restaurateur. Country Club Hills gave Noel a monthly repayment plan with interest and placed a lien on his restaurant's equipment -- just in case he does close.

"There's nobody for a business. It was unusual, but we put a lot of time and effort into bring him here and, by golly, I'm going to try and keep him here," said Dwight Welch, Country Club Hills mayor.

Because they had no pancake house of their own, for years, village officials had been asking Noel, also a resident, to open up a restaurant there. So, a year and a half ago, he did, after selling his wildly successful pancake house on 87th and Cottage Grove in Chicago.

Business was so bad the first month he was forced to fire his staff of 20 because he couldn't afford to pay them. Now Noel is the cook, while his nephew and other relatives work for free -- including his wife, who he first met 20 years as a high school senior.

"He thought it was going to be a little bit different -- and it is. We just have to wait it out," said Christine Noel, owner's wife.

Noel's customers are glad he is still open.

"I don't think of any other restaurant around here that I would rather be at," said Leslie Williams, restaurant patron.

"I'm glad the city helped him out, and I hope he is a success," said Gail Herndon, restaurant patron.

As does Leslie Noel, who doesn't want to consider any other option.

"It's been tiresome, but it's a good feeling. I'm feeling that there might be some light at the end of the tunnel," said Noel.

Both sides say the agreement is mutually beneficial. It allows Noel's eatery to stay open in a village that has always had trouble attracting new business.

Leslie Noel adds he has never given Mayor Welch a campaign contribution or worked on any of his political campaigns. Welch says they are working on a plan for Noel to also open at 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights so he can cater to the late-night customers from the local nightclubs within a mile of the Pancake House.

The city also plans to create a grants program in its next budget year, though Welch said he doesn't yet know how much will be set aside.