The spirit of Streator’s downtown resurgence is contagious.
Rick Wilkinson said he bought the former Union Bank building at the northeast corner of North Park and East Main streets, figuring it was too nice of a building and too great of a location to let it sit on the market.
After speaking with other downtown Streator business owners, he was inspired to transform the former bank into a destination restaurant for the city’s downtown. He and his wife Stephanie plan to open the upscale restaurant Gaetanos Vault by the end of the year.
“The passion they have for their businesses and the hard work they put in to improve the downtown is what attracted me to do this project,” Wilkinson said of other downtown business owners. “The downtown is on its way up.”
Wilkinson wants to attract visitors to downtown Streator by tapping into the roughly two million visitors to Starved Rock State Park and he knew the restaurant needed to be unique to do so.
Working with Palos Hills artist Ray Paseka, who created the Heritage Park mural in Streator among other public art projects, Wilkinson decided to theme the restaurant around a 1932 robbery at the former bank. A large mural will greet patrons entering the front of the restaurant and tell that history.
“I want to take people back to that time period when the robbery occurred,” Wilkinson said, adding that a trip to the restaurant will feel like stepping into “The Great Gatsby.”
The owner spared no expense to ensure those details remained. All of the interior design of the restaurant is custom made of the woodwork, steel frames, tin ceilings and leather seating a visitor would see in the 1930s, right down to the two-paneled ceiling fans. The bar features exposed wooden kegs and period lighting of that decade. Star Union Spirits out of Peru will be a partner providing some liquor, he said.
The only item in the restaurant with a modern feel is the laser projector screen, designed to cater multimedia for private parties or events.
The original bank vault was kept intact and will be used as a VIP area to accommodate party reservations or special events. High-end alcohol will be served within the vault, Wilkinson said.
The restaurant will be a tablecloth establishment featuring steaks, chops and seafood, among other food items.
“We aren’t trying to compete with the bar style restaurant, we feel Streator has plenty of good ones already,” Wilkinson said. “We are looking to be a unique, upscale, destination. It will have a romantic feel.”
A courtyard will open outside from the restaurant through a gated door, similar to those used by the speakeasies of old. The courtyard is fenced by black wrought iron and will have a classical Italian feel with lights strung across the dining area. A two-tier aluminum mural will help complete the outside’s transformation into an Italian-style courtyard.
The restaurant will have banquet rooms upstairs and possible office space to lease, Wilkinson said. He said he’s already spoken with the Silver Fox wedding venue to collaborate on providing the restaurant for rehearsal dinners, bachelor/bachelorette parties, etc.
Altogether the restaurant will be able to accommodate about 100 people in its dining room and 125 outdoors, not counting the private vault areas and upstairs banquet rooms.
Wilkinson said the name Gaetano comes from his Italian grandfather, pronounced “guy uh tanos.”
He noted the Uptown Bar and Grill in La Salle is one of his favorite local restaurants, and he would like to develop a similar niche in Streator.
“We want it to be a place you go celebrate a special occasion,” Wilkinson said. “Growing up in Streator, we believe this is something we can give back.”