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Old post office restaurant project delayed again

The Hudson City Council has extended another deadline on a project to convert the former post office building on Locust Street into an Italian American restaurant.

The council on Tuesday, May 15, set June 25 as the new deadline for Russell Evenson to close on his purchase of the building from Don Maysack.

If the transaction is completed by then, the council will consider renewing the restaurant's liquor license for a year and extending the deadline for owner Evenson to put the license to use.

The council previously had set May 15 as the deadline for Evenson to finalize the purchase of the building and keep his license.

Council members were sympathetic about the difficulty Evenson has had obtaining financing for the purchase and renovation of the building.

He said he had bank and Small Business Administration approval for loans, but then an appraisal of the old post office came in too low to satisfy the bank.

Evenson said the bank wanted him to put up either more collateral or cash. He said he wasn't willing to invest more cash in the project, but was having his Amery restaurant appraised as collateral.

He explained the situation to both the Finance Committee that met immediately prior to the City Council and to the full council.

Evenson said he would soon know what his Amery restaurant was appraised at, and that he hoped to close on the Hudson building by June 1.

"I can guarantee that I'm 100 percent behind the project. I want to get this done as fast as I can," he said.

He said he has hired four new employees who are training at the Amery restaurant and will come to the Hudson restaurant when it opens.

"I do guarantee that I will get this project done if you let me," Evenson told the council. He said the restaurant would be good for Hudson -- and for Locust Street in particular.

Evenson threw himself at the mercy of the council and said, "If you want to approve it fine. If you don't, I can get some sleep."

He added that he had never failed at anything but public speaking.

Evenson has owned and operated Village Pizzeria in Amery since the mid-1990s. The restaurant is a converted grocery store that offers more than the name implies. The menu features a variety of pasta entrees, steak dinners and salads in addition to pizza.

Evenson started The Village Pizzeria in Dresser in 1979 and sold it about five years ago. He renovated a former truck garage to be the Dresser restaurant.

Last January, he told the Star-Observer that the old Hudson post office would make the nicest restaurant he has opened. He plans to name it Postmark Grille.

The City Council approved the liquor license for the restaurant last December and set a deadline of April 30 for the opening.

In April, Evenson reported to the council that he had been unable to close on the purchase of the building. He asked for and received a 120-day extension on deadline to begin using the liquor license.

The city requires businesses to put liquor licenses to use within 90 days of receiving them, because a limited number of licenses are available. In recent years, the City Council has loosened the restriction on the number of licenses to the maximum allowed by the state -- one Class B license for every 500 city residents.

The council in February also amended the ordinance on the time limit for putting a liquor license to use. The council now has leeway to grant an extension "as it deems reasonable and appropriate" to the 90-day limit. Previously, only a 30-day extension was allowed.

The council recognized that more time is often needed to start up a restaurant, and that construction can't begin until the owner receives a liquor license.

Evenson told the City Council that was the situation in his case. His bank financing is contingent upon him having a liquor license. And he can't begin renovations to the old post office until the financing is in place.

He previously told the council that the renovations to the old post office, and construction of a kitchen addition, would take time.

Last week, he said would likely be back before the council asking for an extension to the Aug. 31 deadline for opening the restaurant. He said Oct. 1 was a more realistic opening date.

City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick said the building purchase would have to take place before the council decides whether to renew Evenson's license for another year. All alcoholic beverage licenses are up for renewal for each summer. The license period runs from July 1 through June 30.

Munkittrick said the council could consider giving Evenson more time to open the restaurant when it considers renewal of his liquor license.

The council members were convinced of Evenson's effort to move the project forward.

In response to a question from Alderperson Randy Morrissette, City Clerk Nancy Korson said two reserve Class B liquor licenses are still available.

That also appeared to be a factor in allowing Evenson more time to close on the building purchase. Alderperson Mary Yacoub said the availability of the other licenses made it an easy decision for her.

Evenson's lawyer, Brian Byrnes of Amery, said the building purchase is close to being completed.

He also vouched for the quality of Evenson's Amery restaurant.

Byrnes said his office window faces the restaurant and he can see from the number of cars in the parking lot that it is a popular place.

"Sunday mornings, you can't find a spot to park," he said. "Russ has done an incredibly good job with what he has done in Amery."

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

(715) 426-1066