New name, New owners

By on July 26, 2012

Photo: The restaurant at the corner of Route 47 and Main Street Road in Elburn has new owners. Dennis and Pam Moutray and another couple have bought the business and renamed it Blackberry Bar and Grill. Photo by John DiDonna

Blackberry Inn reopens as Blackberry Bar & Grill
by Cheryl Borrowdale
ELBURN—Pam Moutray thought her first day at the Blackberry Bar and Grill, which opened on June 18, would be a quiet introduction to the restaurant business.

“We hadn’t done any advertising,” she said. “I thought we would just slide under the radar.”

But word had spread that the old Blackberry Inn, which had closed in December 2011 after over two decades in Elburn, was back and under new ownership.

“We were slammed,” she said. “People had heard through the grapevine and were coming in. Those first couple days, I was just a zombie.”

It’s been nearly nonstop for Pam and her husband, Dennis, who bought the Blackberry Inn in March, along with co-owners Mark and Sandy Plante, ever since. The Moutrays take care of the day-to-day operations, while the Plantes provide financial backing, Pam said.

For the first month, Pam and Dennis were there seven days a week, working until the midnight or 2 a.m. close most nights, and then back again the next morning by 10 a.m., polishing floors, checking over the night’s receipts, supervising employees and getting ready for another day.

“It’s just like that movie, “Groundhog Day,” Dennis said. “The same thing over and over.

When Dennis first proposed buying the Blackberry from the previous owners, Chuck and Michelle Reese, who had retired and moved to Florida, Pam initially said no. Between her real estate business—she is self-employed as a RE/MAX realtor—and Dennis’ Super Suds car wash in Hinckley, the couple already had their hands full, she said.

But Pam said she eventually came around to the idea because it was too good a deal to pass up. The Moutrays, who live in Maple Park, had experience running previous businesses, including the BP in Sugar Grove and a convenience store, both of which they eventually sold; the Plantes, who live in North Aurora, own the Superior Car Wash in Sugar Grove. Though they’d never run a restaurant before, they thought they could do it.

“So far it’s been fun, Pam said. “We’ve always been people people, and I enjoy talking to our customers. We had to buy it. We just couldn t believe it was going to be empty.”

Neither could her customers, it seems.

“Most of the comments I’ve heard are, ‘We’re so glad you’re back open.’ Everybody always says, ‘We live just up the road,’ and then they point just over there,” Pam said. “It’s a nice, close option without having to go up into downtown Elburn or go over to Randall.”

Regulars have been pleased to see that many of the old Blackberry Inn classics, from the reuben sandwich to the Wednesday night fried chicken, are still on the menu. The Moutrays hired back both the former chef and manager, which helped keep some of the most popular menu items the same, Pam said.

“We had some new ideas, but people kept asking us, ‘Are you still going to have the reuben? The fried chicken?’ And we realized, why reinvent the wheel? These were kind of the big thing here, and people wanted them back. We’re doing four big briskets a day. I can’t believe the people that flock in here to get the chicken,” Pam said. “We had people in here the other night from Rochelle who came just for the chicken.”

Yet the menu has been tweaked to add fan-tailed shrimp, sweet potato puffs and smaller-size burgers to suit smaller appetites, in addition to the half-pound burger that has long been on the menu. It also now includes a few healthy items, she said, including an entree-sized chef’s salad, a Caesar salad with chicken, and a veggie platter appetizer that comes with ranch dressing.

“I didn’t want everything on the menu to be fried,” she said.

A kid’s menu has also been added, and the Moutrays hope to make the Blackberry more family friendly—partly because they have their own grandchildren, who live in Sugar Grove, in mind.

The interior of the Blackberry Bar & Grill has been spruced up with a fresh coat of paint and a thorough cleaning job, but they didn’t put the old beer signs back up in the dining area, which is partially separated from the bar area. Instead, they bought a couple of high chairs and cleaned up the patio, too, opening the fence. The Moultrays plan to decorate the area with Kaneland sports materials.

“We want families to feel comfortable here,” Pam said. “Chase, my little grandson, likes to come to play the toy machine that gives a ball every time you play it.”

While the bar and dining room otherwise look much the same, behind the scenes, the kitchen has been gutted and completely renovated to bring it up to code, electrical work has been done, lighting has been improved, the basement has been cleaned and organized, broken windows have been replaced and sealed, and a leaky bathroom has been repaired.

“People come in and say it doesn’t look a whole lot different, but we’ve overhauled a lot,” Pam said. “It needed updating, and one thing led to another.”

Sprucing up the place and getting it running has been a family affair.

Eric, the Moutrays’ youngest son, took it upon himself to come over and clean up the landscaping.

“He just pitched in and did it without being asked,” Pam said. “He helped get things ready to open, cutting down trees and cleaning up the outside.”

Their daughter, Michelle, who lives in Sugar Grove with her husband and two children, has come in to help out with the cleaning, and they have a niece who’s working as a part-time bartender.

Dennis said they have plans to expand further and add more entertainment options. By this fall, they hope to have slot machines available in the bar area, under a new Illinois law that allows gaming in authorized locations, rather than just the riverboats. Since the Blackberry Bar and Grill is located in unincorporated Kane County, even though Elburn has opted to ban such gaming, the restaurant is able to participate.

“We think it will be a big draw,” Pam said.

Dennis cautioned that the plan depends on state approval.

“It’s not a given yet,” he said. “We hope to have them, but until they come in here and give us approval, you never know.”

Other tentative plans include the installation of outdoor volleyball courts—which local volleyball leagues could rent—or perhaps renting a smaller building on the property to another restaurant.

“We’re hoping in the near future to put volleyball courts in,” Dennis said. “Maybe put a pizza place at the top of the hill, or maybe a breakfast place. We were thinking about running it ourselves at first, but now we’re thinking about leasing it.”

More definite plans include hosting a grand opening celebration sometime in August, with drink specials to celebrate the new business, and a rib-off to pick a new rib recipe.

“I think I have a great rib recipe, and our chef says he has a great one, and so do a couple of others,” Pam said. “So we think we’ll make all the different ones and have a rib-off to let the customers decide which ones they like best.”

A month into the business, Pam said she was happy to have found some balance, taking Tuesdays off to watch her grandchildren, which was one of the things she missed most about her old life.

“I wasn’t happy being away from them, so I’m happier now that we ve gotten things running here and I can spend some time with them again,” she said.

She and Dennis still spend the majority of their time at the bar and grill, though, she said.

“We hope to make it a good place, make some money and have fun doing it,” she said.