UNIVERSITY VILLAGE — A group of former University of Illinois at Chicago basketball players aims to open a restaurant and bar — with live music — in a vacant storefront on South Racine Avenue.
The group, led by Lamont Bryant Sr., aims to open Club 626 at 626 S. Racine Ave. in the former Salatino's restaurant.
Bryant, the athletic director at Chicago Vocational Career Academy and former coach of the Marshall High School basketball team, said he wants to open the restaurant/bar at the former home of Rico's, an upscale Italian eatery where he used to dine as a hoops player for the Flames.
A 1986 UIC grad, Bryant said his partners plan to draw an older crowd.
"Especially at night, we're thinking 30 and older," he said.
A restaurant and bar would be in one part of the South Racine location, and investors would develop a lounge/club with live music, he said.
Other Club 626 partners include UIC alums and Flames Hall of Fame members Tracy Dildy, a former assistant basketball coach at UIC and current men's basketball coach at Chicago State University, and Darryl Rice, UIC's grounds crew chief, among other investors.
The group wants to keep its menu a secret for now.
"We have two people interested in the restaurant that bring two different ideas," Bryant said.
Both chefs operate restaurants, he said, and hinted: "Lasagna will be on the menu, for sure."
Two neighborhood groups have taken opposing stances on the proposal.
The University Village Association does not support the project, and has sent a letter to Bryant indicating that, said Kathy Catrambone, executive director of the group. Neighbors are concerned about the closing time and loud noise it could bring to the block.
"What we want for the space is quite different than what he wants," she said Monday. "It's just too residential of a neighborhood for that kind of an establishment."
The neighborhood group would prefer to see a restaurant that would close by 11 p.m., Catrambone said.
Although partners have since "dialed back" the proposal, the changes aren't enough to alleviate community concerns, Catrambone said.
But Dennis O'Neill, Connecting 4 Communities executive director, said his group supports the plan. He just wants to ensure that it doesn't disrupt the neighborhood.
"So far it sounds like a good proposal, and I think they plan to come back with some additional information," O'Neill said.
Bryant said that he has responded to the neighborhood's requests, including adding a parking plan.
He has a meeting scheduled with Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) later this week and he plans to discuss next steps in the project, he said.
Bryant first brought a proposal to Ervin in April and is renegotiating a lease with the building's owner, he said.
Ervin plans to hold a second community meeting concerning the project when developers are ready to present a revised proposal, said Ty Cratic, Ervin's spokesman.
Salatino's, which included a storefront that used to house Dough Boys pizza, closed in the summer of 2012.
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