Mabrys continue working toward restaurant opening

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

A couple planning to open a restaurant on Vandalia Lake say that the city council’s vote on enforcing its zoning ordinance does not stop them from proceeding with their plans.
“We keep going,” Steve “Luke” Mabry said last Wednesday afternoon.
Mabry and his wife, Latisha, are finalizing work on the conversion of a house into a restaurant called The Lake House, located on Ill. Route 185 at the Vandalia Lake bridge.
After a closed session last Monday night, and after hearing from opponents to the couple’s plans, the city council decided that it will enforce an ordinance that limits that area to single-family residential buildings.
City Attorney Jack Johnston said at an earlier meeting that the previous owner of the Mabrys’ property agreed to subject that residence to single-family residential zoning in exchange for having a boat dock at that location. He said it is his opinion that that agreement is still in effect.
But the Mabrys disagree, and so does their attorney, Jay Dowling of Fairview Heights.
“That was after the state’s attorney and the assistant state’s attorney told us that we were well within our rights to do this,” Luke said. “That’s three separate attorneys.”
Regardless, Luke said, they are legally allowed to continue working on their building because, “We’re not doing anything illegal (right now). Anything that we are doing to the building isn’t anything that anyone can’t do to a house.
And, he said, “We haven’t received anything from the city. We have not had any correspondence from them.”
On the issue of a liquor license from the county, Luke said, “If for some reason, we can’t operate, the county is not out anything.”
If they are not granted a liquor license, they said, their customers will be bringing in liquor. And, the Mabrys said, they won’t be able to control what kind of liquor they bring in or how much they drink. With a license, they said, they can control how much is being served.
Luke said the Mabry family, including him and his wife, have long looked at operating a restaurant on Vandalia Lake.
“Even before Mom (Deb Hamel) ever opened The Depot, we’ve wanted a project like this. We researched the lake for years, and we finally found a location,” Luke said.
Despite all of the opposition being voiced against the location they picked, the Mabrys said that they have not considered moving their project to another spot, even though, they said, that Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman twice asked them about operating their restaurant at the lake marina.
The Mabrys want to “offer a restaurant with fine dining and a gorgeous, relaxing view of the lake,” Latisha said.
They want to offer a menu that includes offering such as “steaks, chops, veal, seafood and salad,” Latisha said.
Their plan is to have the restaurant open from 4-9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday and from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with outdoor lunch to be available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The sale of alcohol is not a big part of their plan, the Mabrys said.
“Some people like to have a nice dinner with a cocktail and then go home,” Luke said.
“It’s not going to be a party palace,” he said. “We don’t want a party palace.
Latisha said, “We just want to create a nice environment for (local) people to enjoy their lake while they have a nice dinner.
“And it’s an opportunity for people outside of town to come and enjoy Vandalia Lake,” she said.
Their potential clientele, they said, includes those people who like to spend time at the lake but can’t afford a camper and/or lake lot. And, Luke said, it also includes those who do camp at Vandalia Lake.
“One of the city’s greatest natural resources is that lake,” Luke said, “and I can’t think of any lake this size that does not have a restaurant on it.”
Their restaurant, they said, will also create jobs and tax revenue for the area.
“I gave up a good job with good pay and benefits and a retirement package to come back here to operate a restaurant and to create jobs,” Latisha said.
She talked to one young female who said she has been unable to get a job because she doesn’t have any job experience.
“Somebody has to get these kids started with experience and show them the way of life, expose them to the work environment,” she said.
With the issue being discussed at several city council and county board meetings, the Mabrys have witnessed a divide among government officials. That’s strange to them, because both say that they are always working on economic development.
“They should be working together to improve the community, not fighting,” Latisha said.