Paul Leech is no stranger to opening restaurants in Crystal Lake. With Jude’s, Catina 52, owning The Cottage and revamping Hickory Hall, he is adding another restaurant to the list.
Junction will be his latest – and, he says, probably his last – restaurant to open in downtown Crystal Lake, with a debut anticipated sometime in early November.
“This is going to be like a social scene with an eclectic menu,” Leech said.
Junction, located at 88 Railroad Street, will have a hint of Mediterranean inspirations, with seafood and a Mediterranean chicken recipe that Leech hopes to be a standout dish.
Burgers, protein bowls, milkshakes, “wacky” grilled cheeses and alcohol-free “mocktails” also will be on the menu. Breakfast sandwiches, pastries, espresso drinks and coffee will be available in the morning.
“I didn’t feel like there was enough variety in Crystal Lake,” he said.
The restaurant was first proposed to the City of Crystal Lake in April 2022 as a railroad-themed bourbon bar and restaurant with previous partner Jim Tomasek. After some creative changes to the original idea, Leech leaned more into the social scene aspect with a wider variety of menu items.
Leech said he shares the same vision of turning Crystal Lake into a more vibrant area that can attract visitors from all over. Along with downtown’s many restaurants, as well as the Raue Center for the Arts, Depot Park and the new apartment building, Leech hopes Junction will help lead the area toward that vision.
“I’ve been waiting for this restaurant for quite some time,” Mayor Haig Haleblian said.
Haleblian said he’s most looking forward to tasting the Mediterranean-style dishes.
“That’s my soul food,” he said. “That’s what I grew up on.”
Junction could be open in the next three weeks, but Leech is taking it day by day, he said.
“I’m not in a rush. I want to get it right,” Leech said.
The restaurant, which was five years in the making, is inspired by an establishment Leech used to visit in Manchester, England, where there was a wide variety of food options on the menu. Leech has drawn from his life experiences before, with the Jude’s menu inspired by dishes he discovered in his international travels.
As for the future, Leech does not plan on opening any more restaurants. He intends to sell them to business partners once they’re ready.
“The purpose is to build them up, put my identity into them, get them busy and sell them to my partners,” he said. “This is my way of giving back to Crystal Lake.”