The Elgin Courier-News published an article on September 22 about the closing of a Downtown Elgin restaurant. The article reported on the restaurant proprietor’s claims of problems with city “government policies and ordinances.”
The Elgin Courier-News did not seek comment from the city before publishing the article. If the city had been contacted by the newspaper, it would have conveyed the following information.
Matt Habib, proprietor of the Red Poppy Bistro in the Downtown, posted to Facebook on September 20, announcing the immediate closing of his restaurant as he “can no longer function under current Elgin Government policies and ordinances.”
Mr. Habib appears to be responding to what staff believes is an ongoing effort to help him lawfully operate his food truck. The parking lot in which his food truck is located is intended for the benefit of the building in which he was also leasing space for the restaurant.
The city received an anonymous complaint in June alleging that Mr. Habib was unlawfully operating his food truck at nights and on weekends from a parking lot.
The city investigated and Mr. Habib was told to immediately stop serving food from the truck because it did not have proper sanitation facilities for enabling food preparers to wash their hands.
Mr. Habib was also storing a refrigerator, freezer, smoker, food prep table, rolls of Astroturf, buckets, a damaged chair and a spare tire in the parking lot. The refrigerator and freezer were elevated on wood pallets and plugged into an outlet on the exterior of the building. The refrigerator’s unsecured electrical connections fail to provide a reasonable guarantee the refrigeration equipment will continually operate, putting any perishable items that may be stored in the refrigerator for sale to the public at risk for contamination.
Mr. Habib was told he could continue using the refrigerator in the parking lot if it was hardwired to the building, screened and protected. Mr. Habib applied for a building permit to properly wire the refrigerator, but that application lacked the specificity necessary for the permit to be issued. The city emailed Mr. Habib asking for the additional information necessary to issue the permit.
The city also advised Mr. Habib that while he could continue parking the food truck in the parking lot, the food truck can only be used to provide food service after he provided the necessary hand washing sink and obtained a temporary use permit for its operation.
Elgin’s zoning ordinance requires that business be conducted from within a building except where a temporary use permit is issued. The city authorizes certain businesses operations to be conducted in a parking lot, but not permanently. A business can have four permits per year, and each permit can last 15 days. Granting the temporary use permit is a ministerial determination once the applicant demonstrates compliance with the zoning ordinance’s provisions. A typical example of an authorized temporary use permit is the Jewel grocery stores’ annual establishment of a greenhouse and other plant sales in their parking lots during the summer months.
Mr. Habib applied for a temporary use permit but chose not to provide the additional information necessary for the city to approve that permit. Mr. Habib wrote to the city on June 29 stating “there are far beneficial [sic] alternatives” and he did “not want to create any extra exertion for any party involved.”
The food truck’s deficient sanitary condition and the unkempt parking lot area prompted the city’s health department to advance its routine inspection of Red Poppy. Several risk factors were found inside the Red Poppy restaurant on June 17 that have since been corrected.
No citations were issued regarding any of these items.
Before Mr. Habib opened Red Poppy, he operated Legit Dogs and Ice from the basement of the Dream Hall at 51 S. Grove Avenue for about a year-and-a-half. The city in March 2019 approved a conditional use permit allowing Legit Dogs and Ice to continue hosting live music events at that location. City staff not only assisted Mr. Habib in completing his conditional use application by taking night-time noise readings at the location, but also in absorbing the nearly $6,000 in costs for the third-party sound study conducted by a professional sound engineer that was necessary to demonstrate Mr. Habib’s business was in compliance with the city’s noise ordinance. Professional consulting costs are normally borne by the conditional use applicant.
It is regretful that Mr. Habib is choosing to discontinue his business operation despite the city’s repeated efforts to assist him in bringing his restaurants into compliance with the regulations all other food service businesses in the city routinely follow.