Open for Business: Peoria restaurant owner fights to stay afloat a year into business

Open For Business

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — With a new year brings new hopes. But for Ken Allison, the owner of Mack’s in downtown Peoria, it brings new concerns.

“We’re just kind of left with, you know, the field of dreams where we’ve built it, but nobody’s coming,” he said.

It’s the tale of small businesses across Central Illinois right now. The initial blow of the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s following dining restrictions are putting him in an economic bind. 

“I’ve got to sit in this business for 48 months before I can draw a paycheck, when I’ve already not taken a paycheck in 24 months.”

ken allison

“I started my entrepreneurial journey in the early part of 2019 and I couldn’t have predicted [the coronavirus pandemic]. You know, I have a degree in Accounting and a CPA license and there’s not—I’m not smart enough to outwork the pandemic,” Allison said.

He opened his restaurant and bar in the old Tannin and Hops Speakeasy on Water Street back in November of 2019. Just over a year into business, Allison is left with five employees and a drastic decline in revenue.

“It’s heartbreaking. There’s not a—there’s not a person I haven’t let go this year that I haven’t shed a tear over and that’s being totally honest,” Allison said. “Where’s my help? Who’s coming to save me? Who’s gonna make sure—I mean I’ve lost almost $600,000 this year. $600,000 and that’s a real number.”

Allison owns multiple businesses that he’s juggling in the midst of the pandemic, including a CPA firm and an auto body shop. While he said he has gotten Paycheck Protection Program funding, Allison said the money didn’t help much since he wasn’t able to operate during the shutdown.

He said, “My business matters. You know my financial life matters. You know my goals matter.”

He plans to fight forward.

“This is part of my legacy. You know? Why do I—why would I not want to fight for it to survive?”

ken allison

Mack’s remains open, now offering carry out and curbside pickup for customers. 

“The reality is that you just immediately get to work. You know a lot of people have asked me, ‘Hey do you—have you lost sleep?’ And you know, it’s not that I’ve lost sleep. It’s I chose not to sleep because I spend more time working,” said Allison.

Allison is encouraging people to support small business as local entrepreneurs work to serve the communities they love. 

“Visit those establishments because they need it. The lifeblood needs to be injected, otherwise  it’s going to be bad,” he said.

“All you can do is just continue to wake up everyday and continue to try and try to give your best effort.”

“I think people need to have a real heavy dose of reality.”

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