With a love of tradition and hating to see a good one end, Jibby’s owner Doug Wilson was glad to save the eatery from being leveled into a parking lot when he bought it last year.
Wilson is known for his roles as a host interior designer for The Learning Channel’s “Trading Spaces,” “Moving Up” and “America’s Ugliest.”
Jibby’s, an iconic establishment located in Sullivan since 1941, has a fresh new look after a six-month renovation project spearheaded by Wilson.
“It was time after all these years to have a fresh start,” he said.
According to Wilson, Jibby’s widow, Ruth Fliorini, has said her late husband wanted to offer a place where people could just have fun.
Wilson plans to carry on this legacy and has hung a picture of its creator in the central part of the restaurant.
The Sullivan community has backed him from the start and didn’t want Jibby’s to close, he said.
Wilson said he couldn’t have re-opened the eatery without their help. Community members helped with clean-up efforts and painting.
With the renovations, the design theme is of a timeless, American classic accord that appeals to all ages, offering a comfortable setting for all, he said.
Jibby’s closed for renovations April 29, 2008, and re-opened in October, thus missing the Little Theatre on the Square’s season. The two entities have worked hand in hand throughout the years.
Wilson has delved into the new venture in Sullivan to get back in touch with his roots and his family, he said. Wilson grew up in Broadlands, near Champaign.
With a lifelong passion for the arts, Wilson has taken an active role in helping Sullivan maintain its artsy culture, which really helped keep the community alive for years, he said.
By serving on several committees, as well as helping establish an arts council, Wilson is taking a hands-on approach to his newest endeavor. He said he loves being involved in the town that has so much potential.
The interior designer/restauranteer said he spends half the year in New York and half the year in Sullivan. He said going back and forth is tough to juggle at times.
According to the Little Theatre’s Managing Director John Stephens, “Doug has been very thoughtful of what the town would like. He’s not just doing it for himself. He has really taken to the history of the town, the history of the theater and of Jibby’s.”
Stephens said his company is thrilled to see Jibby’s open and ready for the theater season.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better turnout. It’s a beautiful facility. It helps us with what our patrons are looking for,” he said. “They want somewhere to eat, somewhere to shop. We’re kind of giving them the whole package now.
“It (Jibby’s) feels like you could be in any big city in the world, and you are in Sullivan, Illinois.”
Wilson said he has always wanted to venture into the restaurant and/or hospitality industry. At age 15, he began working in the restaurant industry in Champaign at the Sunshine Dinner Playhouse. He said he was involved in acting, busing and waiting tables there.
Years later he found himself doing the same types of jobs when he first went to New York. He said he worked in some of the finer restaurants there to pay the bills.
About the newly renovated restaurant
By deciding to make an updated lift to the restaurant, Wilson put his own twist on the design while also preserving some of the history of the original establishment.
Wilson wanted to continue displaying photos of actors who have made it big after once performing at the Little Theatre on the Square.
He mentioned a few of the celebrities, such as Ann B. Davis, Joanne Worley, Mickey Rooney and Peter York. He said it was a key element that he wanted to keep as a highlight of the restaurant.
“I wanted to enhance it and bring it back to life,” he said.
Contractor Jim Standerfer of Standerfer Construction and Engineering in Sullivan said he was pleased with the outcome of the project.
“It was a pretty dramatic structural modification, as well as the aesthetics,” he said.
The restaurant is divided into four basic areas: formal, bar, dining, and the evening lounge. The restaurant has the same booths, only they were recovered with vinyl, Wilson said.
Standerfer said the kitchen was completely overhauled. While most of the original kitchen equipment was cleaned up and kept, “the floor mats were what was keeping it from the basement,” the contractor said.
There also was a similar flooring issue behind the bar, he added.
“Doug’s pretty big on the green concept, as am I,” Standerfer said. He said the I-beams were recycled from a local factory and the handrail upstairs has a touch of Sullivan’s history, as it was located years ago in the city’s old hotel and then at the First National Bank.
Restaurant furnishings were purchased largely secondhand from hotel liquidation sales, Wilson said. The only new pieces of furniture he bought were some of the chairs, he said.
Within the evening lounge area of the restaurant, he was able to recapture the essence of original low ceilings and restore them using similar techniques and expertise he is known to use in the show “Trading Spaces,” he said.
Also, a theater stage light is located in the evening lounge area and was purchased secondhand from Ryan’s theater of Decatur, he said.
In the bar, the railing is from the original Jibby’s, he said, although it was reconfigured and polished. The bar area has bookshelves to create a warm, at-home, library feel. He said it was also an area in which to splash some color, as well.
Lighting fixtures acquired at a local antique shop add an element of Sullivan history, too.
One of Wilson’s personal experiences also plays into the furnishings as he was able to purchase some yellow chairs from the former Palmer House in Chicago, where he stayed as a sophomore in high school while attending a youth event.
“(The original Jibby’s) was so dark, and the windows were painted,” he said.
Customers immediately noticed that it was light and airy and was such a contrast from what it was before, he said.
Plans are in the making to offer more events that can be hosted upstairs at the facility. Special events, hotel rooms or banquet dining are possibilities to utilize the space.
Jibby’s will continue its tradition of providing the place to go for actors on all of the opening nights of the Little Theatre, Wilson said. Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka — of the “Laverne and Shirley” television show — were at the restaurant on their opening nights, as were members of the Platters.
Contact Dawn James at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-6866.