Community rallies around The Vine in Grayslake

GoFundMe page, other businesses trying to help owner overcome ‘string of bad luck’

GRAYSLAKE – It’s been quite a journey for Michael Pruitt since opening The Vine Martini & Wine Bar in Grayslake 16 years ago.

Amid a series of ups and downs through the years, and especially the past couple of months, one constant has remained: community support.

Pruitt has strived to do his part by supporting and hosting fundraisers, and now the community is stepping up to help him.

As described in a GoFundMe at created to raise $30,000 for The Vine, the business has experienced a “string of bad luck.” As of this week, almost $17,000 had been raised.

Pruitt summed it up this way: “It’s been kind of crazy.”

While renovating and expanding the business, Pruitt discovered a filled 1,000-gallon oil tank buried behind the 100-year-old building, which at one point served as a gas station. Then the business’s main sewer line broke, forcing the restaurant to close for five days over Labor Day weekend.

“We all know the cost of being closed for a restaurant during these times is a lot,” wrote Matt Kilbride, a friend of Pruitt who created the GoFundMe. “Michael is a huge supporter of the Grayslake community and a great friend to many! I know he is over $50,000 in the hole for all these repairs! Let’s pull together and raise something for him to make these hard times a little bit easier!”

The challenges came on the heels of good news for The Vine.

A crew from the CBS Television Network came out in June to film at the restaurant and bar to include The Vine in a new series called “Destination – Chicago.” Airing on CBS and streaming internationally on Roku and Amazon Prime, the documentary-style series will feature businesses and attractions in Chicago.

Pruitt said the segment featuring The Vine is being edited and should air this winter.

“It’s just something to put a little pep in our step,” he said.

“This is our chance to show what we do and love, along with what Grayslake means to us,” he wrote to his followers on The Vine – Grayslake, IL Facebook page. “Not many places get a chance to share their story on a state or national level.”

Along with the call from CBS, the support shown this month also was unexpected. A recent fundraiser hosted by The Fogcutter restaurant in Lake Villa for The Vine raised more than $40,000. The effort is one of many put forth by Lake County businesses and community members to help the restaurant.

Support has ranged from the Dance Connection in Grayslake donating proceeds from couple’s lessons to Somethings Brewing Inc. in Grayslake providing free breakfast to workers as they repaired pipes at the business.

“It’s very humbling,” Pruitt said of the ongoing support. “It’s helped us keep going. … There’s a feeling of hope within us.”

Pruitt hit snags as he began construction in August on an expansion of the kitchen and patio space at the restaurant. Originally planned a while ago based on the growing popularity of the business, he had to put those expansion plans on hold during the pandemic.

He hopes to have the kitchen complete by this winter and a new patio space open by spring. Originally on a deck above ground, the outdoor space will become a more accessible brick patio space with a larger bar and band area and a fireplace.

Unexpected costs are straining the renovation budget, Pruitt said.

“It will definitely be tight getting to the end of the project. … We’re still going,” he said.

The underground oil tank came as a surprise to all and required a costly removal, he said.

“Nobody ever knew it was there,” he said. “It was literally filled to the top with oil.”

The burst sewer line only added to the troubles, he said. A 3-foot-by-3-foot hole in the foundation ended up growing into a 12-by-12-foot-wide hole about 10 feet deep, he said. Having to close the restaurant for almost a week cost the business immensely, he said.

“It was definitely a hard five days, but I’m glad it’s behind us for the most part,” he said.

Through it all, as support has poured in, Pruitt has promised to pay it forward and plans to host a celebratory event for all who helped when renovations are complete.

Working in the restaurant industry since the age of 14, Pruitt always has viewed the job as more than just a business and has felt an obligation to give back to the community. Even during the challenges of the past month, he has continued to promote community events and fundraisers through social media and other means.

“When you work in the restaurant industry, especially the group we have, you have this camaraderie, a group of friends that become family,” he said. “I don’t feel like I can get that anywhere else.”