KEWANEE -- After being empty for a year, there's a new restaurant at Johnson Sauk Trail State Park.|
Julie Clark and David Powell were out for a Sunday drive a year ago when they spotted a "for rent" sign on the empty restaurant. The wheels began turning for the Red Earth cafe.
Ms. Clark, who worked 20 years as a server at The Cellar restaurant in Geneseo, said she liked the atmosphere of Sauk Trail.
"I've always liked this location," she said. "I think people are drawn to water, and the scene every day is different depending on how the light is. We've seen every kind of weather except a storm."
Visitors may spot a trumpeter swan or great blue heron on the 58-acre lake, or visit Ryan's round barn, which a Chicago doctor built in 1910 for his hobby farm.
Ms. Clark said they picked the name Red Earth because the Sauk were noted as people of the yellow earth and the Fox who joined their tribe were people of the red earth. "We liked the sound of the red earth better."
They visited other state park concessionaires before submitting a business proposal to the state, she said, adding that the rent they pay to the Department of Natural Resources is "relatively negligible" compared to rent for other restaurant spaces.
They've been working to get the restaurant open since December, when the contract became final, she said.
Mr. Powell, who farms and works another job, made the restaurant's tables from old barn wood and put seats on 90 chairs. They inherited a stove and fryer and a couple of stainless steel tables. The rest of the restaurant's furnishings had to be bought.
The lunch menu includes an eight-ounce bison burger for $8.50, a rib-eye steak sandwich with sauteed onions and green peppers for $9.50 and a black bean veggie burger for $4.50.
Ms. Clark, who has been a vegetarian since she was 17, also offers a wide choice of salads as well as a California grilled vegetarian sandwich with bell peppers, red onion, zucchini and yellow squash for $5.95, and a tomato and artichoke soup.
They also have a variety of fruit pies and plan to add cream pies soon.
As a concessionaire for the state, the Red Earth relies on park visitors as well as people in the 70 RV sites and 30 tent sites to be customers. They are somewhat worried about state legislators' plan to begin charging entrance fees to the park.
"Charging people to go on a picnic? I don't know," Ms. Clark said.
Mr. Powell said as it stands now, if the park ranger fills the RV and tent sites, then "that's a pretty good amount of income. User fees, I don't know. It's probably going to have to be and it's going to be, but how it's going to affect us, I don't know."
For now, they're looking forward to being at the park for many years.
Hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. When the park opens completely on May 1, they will begin serving dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays to start, and a buffet for certain holidays, including Easter, Mother's Day and perhaps Thanksgiving.
"I always thought I'd love to do this," Ms. Clark said. "I love to cook, and I think I make good pie.
"There have been a lot of people who they say are really excited that this is back open. I hope that's true."
For reservations at the Red Earth, call (309) 853-2784.
Hampton, IL Details
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