Health problems are causing a popular Oak Lawn restaurateur to sell her business, but Oak Lawn trustees showed no love for a prospective buyer’s request for a liquor license that would allow him to move ahead with his purchase.
Sandra DiGangi is known for her food and her volunteerism. Since 2010, she has been preparing thousands of free Christmas dinners for the needy at her Big Pappa’s Gyros restaurant at 10806 S. Cicero Ave. Last year, the village board approved her request for a liquor license that allowed her to add five video poker machines in a side room.
However, in recent months, illness has prevented her from working, and DiGangi is trying to sell the business.
“I’ve been in and out of hospital,” she said, most recently with a burst appendix, and has been depending on her son to run the restaurant.
She found a prospective buyer, Anthony Donato, but trustees were not impressed with his plan to open “Anna’s Gaming and Gyros,” in the storefront. Donato, 31, said he owns other similar businesses elsewhere in Illinois, and would essentially keep the same menu.
A request to approve a Class “FV” liquor license, allowing beer and wine in a restaurant—the same license DiGangi already has—was on the agenda at Tuesday’s meeting. But when Mayor Sandra Bury mentioned it, none of the six trustees provided the “second” needed to bring it up for a vote, so it effectively died. However, Bury did allow Mike Walsh, the attorney for DiGangi, to speak about the issue.
Walsh, a former Oak Lawn trustee himself, praised DiGangi for getting involved in the community and providing the holiday meals. He asserted that she improved the value of the business with the liquor license and video gaming, and “there have been no police calls” since they were added.
He said that denying the liquor license for essentially the same type of business will hurt the village, and leave a storefront empty, while Donato will just open up his business in Alsip or another neighboring community.
“No one is being protected but someone (DiGangi) is going to be hurt,” the attorney said.
Trustee Carol Quinlan (5th) told Walsh that she had an issue with the proposed new name. She said she had voted to give DiGangi the license last year, but objected to “Gaming and Gyros,” because it appeared the focus was on gaming rather than food.
“That is not Oak Lawn,” she said, explaining why she would be against if even if it had been brought up for a vote. Trustee Michael Carberry (6th) also said he felt it was “not the right fit for Oak Lawn.”
Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th) told Walsh he had voted against giving Big Pappa’s the license last year.
“I was against it and I am going to stay constant,” he said, asserting that there is already enough video gaming in Oak Lawn. Mayor Bury agreed, saying that according to the latest statistics released in March, more than $9 million has already been wagered in the 30 gambling venues in the village.
“I have no moral objection to gambling. Adults should be able to do it if they want,” said Trustee Tim Desmond (1st) after the meeting.
But he said he did not want to turn Oak Lawn into Las Vegas, with video poker machines everywhere.
“Plus, the intention of the video gaming was to help existing businesses,” rather than bringing in new ones. He also questioned Walsh’s claim that the liquor license improved the value of the business. “It is just a license. It is not a business improvement,” he said.
“I definitely support Sandy (DiGangi). She has dedicated herself to this community,” said Trustee Bob Streit (3rd), “But a lot of good points were brought up (for not approving Donato’s license application).”
While Donato said he couldn’t understand why the license denial, DiGangi did not seem discouraged.
“This deal right here is probably going to crash, but there are other options,” she said.