The flavor of downtown dining may be changing

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John Bays might not get the chance to prove his point that a big-name restaurant can draw good business in downtown Joliet.

But the market is being tested downtown with the opening of new restaurants, including offerings from Joliet Junior College’s culinary arts program and a Korean barbecue that aim to open by June.

Bays last week said he still is talking with restaurant chains about his Cass and Ottawa Building at Cass and Ottawa streets. Whether he gets the kind of name he wants, Bays said, he will open restaurants there by September or October.

“I will have that open for sure,” he said. “It may be two restaurants.”

Bays has talked about trying to attract a restaurant with a name like Cooper’s Hawk or Olive Garden. But he said restaurant chains are reluctant to go downtown until the city opens up Chicago Street, making it a direct route from Interstate 80.

“Chicago Street is not even open now, and they’re saying we don’t want to come until we see how that works,” he said.

The city expects to begin and complete the project in 2019.

Thrive, part of the JJC downtown campus, typically is booked two weeks out for its Friday dinner hours, said Tim Bucci, a culinary arts professor who oversees the restaurant.

The restaurant has limited hours and is closed for the summer. But dishes like potato-crusted Australia barramundi have been “very well received,” he said.

Dillon Kim believes his family can succeed with a Korean barbecue restaurant downtown.

The Kim family is renovating the former Chicago Style Ribs at 221 N. Chicago St. for their K BBQ & Ribs.

Kim, who runs an insurance business next door and owns the building, said he believes the popularity of Korean barbecue will translate well downtown.

The downtown in general has good business potential, Kim said.

“I tell people, ‘Invest here. This is the golden spot,’ ” he said. “They say, ‘You do it first.’ So I do it first.”

Kim pointed to nearby Crabigale’s, which the city owns. The city for years has been unable to attract a developer to the former comedy club space.

“I keep an eye on that building across the street,” Kim said. “I’m hoping someone will buy it and open a business. If they don’t, I do. Some people say I’m crazy about downtown Joliet. I tell them, ‘You don’t know. I love it.’ ”