NORTH AURORA – More than two years ago, Thanh Ngo approached the North Aurora Village Board and outlined his plans to turn an older two-story home on South Lincolnway into a restaurant.
The location was nice – near the intersection of Route 31 and Interstate 88 – and Ngo had experience in the restaurant business.
The village approved a $20,000 grant to help refurbish the building’s facade, and Ngo pledged to put at least $80,000 of his own money into the project.
For the past two years, the building appeared to be under perpetual construction. While Ngo had frequent inspections from the village, progress was unclear to the general public. Contacted earlier this week, even Village President Dale Berman was curious about the restaurant’s status.
There is still no restaurant at 321 S. Lincolnway, but an opening could finally be months away. Village officials believe Ngo soon will be filing for the Kane County Health Department inspection and a village occupancy permit – the final steps to opening a restaurant.
“We’re excited to get this open,” North Aurora Community and Economic Development Director Mike Toth said.
Speaking with chief building inspector Dan Sauter this week, the men didn’t seem surprised by the lengthy construction project. They were impressed.
“I think people get used to a chain coming in or someone with financial backers,” Sauter said. “He’s doing this all on his own.”
When a national chain comes to town, it brings standardized blueprints and huge construction budgets. It’s easier for a Target or Walgreens to absorb the cost of permits and labor. Independent business owners such as Ngo have to meet the same safety and health requirements on a much tighter budget.
The future Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant would be in a two-story residential home that is in an area that is now zoned for commercial development. It is between the Mobil Station and Mr. Scott’s Dog Spa on Route 31, across the street from Cinemark Tinseltown Theaters. Toth believes it’s a spot with untapped economic potential.
The village recently took over Smoke Tree Plaza and used redevelopment funds to start sprucing up the area. A restaurant would be a nice addition, Toth said.
Of course, the person who most wants the restaurant to open is Ngo. On Wednesday, he was standing behind the building, sawing a metal tube for electrical work. Ngo has worked as a contractor, so he knew the type of the project he was getting into. But when he got the building, it was “very old and very, very ugly,” he said.
Since then, he has redone the electrical and built a kitchen. Modern tan and brown tile work accent the interior. On Wednesday, like most days, he was on his own. He no longer counts how many hours he has spent on site.
“I don’t keep track,” he said, laughing. “I don’t want to think about it.”
Ngo previously worked at a Chinese restaurant on Lake Street in Aurora. He plans to take the best meals from that restaurant to his new, still unnamed North Aurora eatery. He’ll add some favorite dishes from Vietnam, where he grew up. He wants to limit the menu options to a few very special items.
The restaurant will have seating as well as a drive-thru. He expects to have lunches available for about $5.
Ngo estimated it would still be at least three months until he opens.
Ngo said he cannot completely express why he has stuck with the dream of owning this restaurant. He admits there were many times when he thought about walking away. Some friends encouraged the thought.
But he points out that doctors love to be doctors and writers need to write.
“I love making the food. I love the business,” he said, looking up at his building. “Even if people say you’re no good, you stick with it. You do it because you love it.”