The closing of Gillerson’s Grubbery in downtown Aurora has not only been sad for fans of the restaurant, it has sparked some controversy on social media.
The kerfuffle has been such that officials at City Hall made a statement this week defending the work of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, which officials thought was treated unfairly in online comments, some from Gillerson’s owner, Dan Emerson.
Emerson posted Aug. 25 that the last day for the restaurant at 33 W. New York St., after almost seven years in business, would be Aug. 27. He said while the restaurant might open occasionally between now and the end of the year, the restaurant’s focus would be on its food truck business, eschewing a brick-and-mortar location in downtown Aurora.
Emerson said the COVID-19 pandemic closures hurt the restaurant, as well as overhead costs associated with a brick-and-mortar establishment.
He said while business always slowed during the summer, this year it decreased by 60% because the Paramount Theatre did not have a show going on during that time.
In Facebook postings, Emerson indicated that there were other factors that “made operating a restaurant in downtown Aurora challenging,” and suggested the city’s economic development office could not deliver on what it said it would.
In its statement, city officials called Emerson’s statements “unexpected, unwarranted and untrue.”
According to the city, Emerson received a total of $31,250 in grants from the CERF and STABLE funds, both created by the City Council to help Aurora businesses recover from the impact of the pandemic. That compared to what other nearby downtown restaurants received from the two funds: $25,000 for Endiro; $35,000 for Ballydoyle; $33,750 for La Quinta de Los Reyes; and $40,000 for Two Brothers.
The city also closed Pinney Street behind Gillerson’s and in the first year of the pandemic provided the business city picnic tables for an outside eating area. Gillerson’s used it, along with other restaurants along the block.
The city also reserved parking spots along New York Street in front of the restaurant for curbside pickup and takeout, and a city electrical box was made available free of charge to support outdoor entertainment, according to the city statement.
In addition to money from the city, Gillerson’s received pandemic relief money from the state government, Kane County and the federal government.
The restaurant received $25,000 from Kane County and another $30,000 from the county’s BIG program, both of which were fueled by federal pandemic relief funds.
Just last July, Gillerson’s received $45,000 from the state of Illinois’ Back to Business program.
Gillerson’s also got loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. One was a $114,200 loan from PNC Bank’s National Association, and other was $122,913 from the federal Small Business Administration.
Emerson said the different programs ” have been very helpful in the past,” and he agreed the city and other agencies did provide the money.
“They are not lying one bit,” he said.
He said he used a lot of the PPP funds to do what the name would suggest, protect paychecks. He said he treated his business like a family, and probably “kept too many people on” staff during the lockdowns.
“I do have a conscience; I would rather employ people than let them go,” he said. “Was it a good business decision? Probably not.”
But Emerson said he was concerned that many of the “well-known” restaurants and businesses downtown received funding, but many others “did not know how to ask” for the help.
But city officials countered that, up to this point, the city has provided more than $2 million in direct cash assistance through the CERF Fund ($927,000) and the STABLE Fund ($883,000) and the current ongoing Finish Line and Re-Start Retention Grant Programs, which the city just developed, are at $192,000 and could grow.
In addition, the city statement said the Economic Development Department was ready to go before the City Council to ask for another $75,000 grant for Gillerson’s, but, while Emerson provided 2021 revenue totals of $946,000, he was unable to provide data for expenses and profits, which every business is required to provide to secure a grant. The city withdrew the request.
“Even still, Mr. Emerson thanked the city’s Economic Development Department for its efforts as he indicated he was shifting priorities to prioritize his food truck business instead of the restaurant,” the statement said.
The Gillerson’s location has been a restaurant since the early 2000s. It was Chef Amaury’s before Gillerson’s.