Parking lot planned for former Chicken-N-Space space

JJC says it learned longtime eatery was closing last week

The now closed Chicken-N-Spice building appears destined to become parking lot, a plan not everyone agrees with.

Chicken-N-Spice, which since 1981 occupied the building originally built for a Jack in the Box restaurant, closed Tuesday as owners Pat and Ken Reimer began their retirement.

The Tuesday closing included a farewell party in which a daylong stream of well-wishers stopped by for one last visit to a place that some had frequented for decades.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a little boy, since it used to be a Jack in the Box,” said Tony Porter of Joliet.

Porter said he’d like to see another restaurant at the location.

His sister, MonaLisa Porter, who also can trace her connection to the building at 251 N. Chicago St. to its Jack in the Box days, says its likely demolition will be “a loss.”

But she did not disagree with the Joliet Junior College plan to convert the building to parking space for its downtown campus next door.

“It’s a good thing they’re going to use it for the college kids who are standing up and trying to do something with their lives,” MonaLisa Porter said.

The property is owned by Joliet Junior College, which has long-term plans to create parking at the Chicken-N-Spice site but no immediate timetable.

JJC acquired the building in 2017 from a previous owner who leased it to the Reimers. The transaction set off rumors that the college would evict Chicken-N-Spice because it wanted the space for parking. But JJC worked out a lease allowing the Reimers to stay as long as they wanted.

The lease only applied to the Reimers, not to the business.

Pat Reimer said JJC has been forthright with her.

“I feel that the best use is for the college,” Reimer said. “They need the parking for the students.”

Still, Steve Wiborg, a family friend of the Reimers who has carried on the Chicken-N-Spice brand in a separate business with locations in Shorewood and Orland Hills, said he at one time was interested in the downtown location, but not as a tenant.

“We have a need to own the property to redo the building,” Wiborg said. “It didn’t work out. We understand.”

Wiborg has been looking at locations in New Lenox for another Chicken-N-Spice location.

JJC first learned that the Reimers were leaving after they announced Sept. 6 that they were closing the Joliet restaurant, college spokeswoman Kelly Rohder-Tonelli said. Rent is paid through September, she said.

“Now that we have that information, there’s going to be a conversation moving forward on what needs to be done,” Rohder-Tonelli said. “The long-term plan is to create parking.”

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News