Naperville’s Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant forced to move, seeks new location

Donate Today Buy This Video

As they say, when one door closes, another door opens, and the owners of a long-time Naperville establishment are hoping that’s the case.  Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant is being forced to close its doors at its current location by the corner of Oleson Drive and Chicago Avenue.

“Our strip mall was sold and the new owner intends to demolish the strip mall and build just his grocery store,” said Sandy Rocush, co-owner.  “Our restaurant has been there for 47 years, and our bar has been there for 30 years.”

Pepe’s closed, new location sought for “The Can”

While the restaurant part of Pepe’s is officially closed as of New Year’s Day, its cantina, fondly known to patrons as “The Can,” may have an opportunity to open doors at a new location.  The husband and wife and their longtime business partner behind it all hope to take over the property of Miss Kitty’s Saloon, and rename it “The Can.”

“Actually the landlord reached out to us because they were planning to close, they were leaving and he was looking for somebody with a good reputation that the Naperville Liquor Commission would approve,” said Rocush.

Naperville News 17 reached out to the owner’s of Miss Kitty’s Saloon to confirm they are in fact closing and find out why.  They sent us a statement, saying “All we can say right now is nothing is finalized.”

Gaining support for a liquor license

Meanwhile, the City of Naperville’s liquor commission has unanimously voted in favor of granting the owner’s of Pepe’s a class C liquor license – that is, the ability to sell alcohol without a functional kitchen –  provided a deal to lease out the building that is currently Miss Kitty’s ends up happening.  They had been holding a Class B liquor license because of the nature of Pepe’s being a restaurant, whereas moving to Miss Kitty’s would be a bar only.

“Our first thought was, well, it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for because we have a restaurant and a bar, and that is only a bar, but we can move the cantina and there is an old kitchen area in there, so we could potentially build kitchens down the road when we’re ready,” said Rocush.  She told the liquor commission they really wanted to stay local but there weren’t many locations available that they could afford without raising prices of their products.

Next steps and hopeful future

It’s ultimately up to the Naperville City Council to consider that recommendation and vote on its final approval.  From there, all parties involved would have to come to an agreement, something all three owners of Pepe’s say would mean the world to them and their fans.

“It’s the families, it’s the customers, it’s our employees,” said Rocush.  “Our longest employees work there for 45 years. It’s just it’s such a family that if this went away, we would just be devastated.”

“We do a lot of work with the Jaycees. We’ve worked with the Exchange Club, and that’s a big part,” said her husband and co-owner, Matt Rocush.  “We’ve won awards for our community service and that’s important to us to, being able to continue to do that is really helps out a lot too.”

“I think that speaks volumes when our patrons are reaching out saying, you know, we love this place,” said Rod Peterson, also a co-owner.  “You know, we don’t want to see it go away.”

That city council vote is expected to happen on Tuesday, Jan 16.  Naperville News 17 will have a follow-up with the results of that vote and any additional details we may get from Miss Kitty’s on this developing story.

Who’s taking over Pepe’s building?

The building Pepe’s sits in, as well as all the other businesses in the Eagle Crest shopping center, have been purchased by Heinen’s Grocery Stores.  The family-owned chain operates 23 stores, 19 in Ohio and four in Illinois.

Its owners are still in the planning stages, working with City of Naperville staff on the processes necessary in order to redevelop the entire 7.3 acres of the shopping center into their grocery store.  They hope to the Naperville Heinen’s Grocery Store open by the spring of 2025.

If you have a story idea, we want to hear from you!