GENEVA – An iconic Geneva business and historic building, The Little Owl and Flagstone Crafts and Cocktails, 101-105 W. State St., was sold to Nick Smith of the Karas Restaurant Group and the director of "Munger Road."
Smith said his father-in-law, George Karas, and George’s brother, Paul, started with The Village Squire in West Dundee in the 1970s. The Little Owl will become the 13th restaurant in the group, which also includes five Rookies All-American Pub and Grills, four Village Squires, two Alexander’s Cafes and one Old Republic Kitchen & Bar.
Smith said he owns Alexander’s Cafe in St. Charles and Old Republic in Elgin.
The handover from the Arbizzani family of Geneva – Chris and John, sons of the late founder Robert – and his widow, Barbara, comes as the family is ready to do other things.
“It’s been in our family since 1947,” Chris Arbizzani said. “It’s time to pass the torch. … The Little Owl and Flagstone has had its day. It’s time for us to move on.”
Robert Arbizzani died six years ago. Barbara Arbizzani said as they took on running the business, they also thought a lot about selling it.
“We came to the realization that this business is not for us,” Chris Arbizzani said.
For Smith, owning the property is a little serendipitous. He filmed a portion of his 2011 movie, “Munger Road,” behind the building.
Smith would not say what the new name of The Little Owl will be, other than it will be new, along with a new look. He said the two dining areas will be combined into one large one, and there will be a lot of saganaki – Greek flaming cheese – a staple at other Karas restaurants.
The goal is to have the restaurant open in time for the Geneva Christmas Walk on Dec. 6.
“We are real excited about what we’re going to do here,” Smith said.
Barbara Arbizzani said her family was excited for what Smith will bring to Geneva and the historic corner.
Smith said what was different about talking to the Arbizzanis about the sale was that in purchases such as Alexander’s in 2016 and Old Republic in 2018, he dealt with “nameless, faceless people.”
“They [Alexander’s and Old Republic] were banked owned, just on the market. This has been a really unique experience … that what I have really enjoyed is getting to know this family and the history of this corner and this building,” Smith said.
“I’ve lived in St. Charles all of my life and live there now. But it’s been absolutely fascinating to learn what was on this corner, what it means to people,” Smith said. “What is really unique is to meet the staff here and to come to understand what it means to wind down a legacy. Because a lot of times, in our experience, we don’t get to be a part of that.”
One of the nicest gestures to make to the future, Smith said, is to make the legacy last.
That was something the Arbizzanis were looking for, someone they could pass the torch to who has a history of longevity in the restaurant business.
“What is still important to (the Arbizzanis) is that this corner is still thriving with people for decades,” Smith said.
“That is the legacy,” Barbara Arbizzani said. “We are 100% excited.”
The Little Owl will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Aug. 17 and then it will close for the remodeling.
During that time, Owl Burgers – usually $12 – will be $5 in order to sell off as much of the food as possible, and to give patrons a chance to say goodbye.
“We did not want people to walk up and see a sign on the door that says ‘closed,’ ” Chris Arbizzani said. “That’s why we wanted to do it the right way and give ample notice.”
Smith said The Little Owl’s staff has been offered positions at the other Karas restaurants while the site is closed for the transition period, as it was important for the Arbizzanis and Smith that the staff be supported as much as possible.
“We prayed for a group like these guys to come in,” John Arbizzani said.
“And open up a little bit of a new chapter on this corner,” Chris Arbizzani said. “To continue a legacy, but it’s a new chapter, a new season.”