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Belleville doctor and chef consider taking over shuttered Hofbräuhaus building

A white building is surrounded by trees.
Joshua Carter
Belleville News-Democrat
The former Hofbräuhaus building in Belleville on Tuesday, June 18, 2024, after workers removed signs, furnishings and decor with the franchise logo due to a court order.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

A Belleville couple is seeking a special-use permit and liquor license to operate a business in the former Hofbräuhaus building, which recently was relisted for sale or lease.

Their vision includes a family-friendly sports bar and restaurant during the day, a nightclub for adults after 9 p.m. and rental rooms for meetings and special events, according to Dr. Glen Babich, who submitted the applications with his wife, Norma Babich, a chef.

“It’s still in the concept phase,” he said.

The Babiches haven’t yet bought the building or finalized plans for financing or renovation. They see the permit process as a way to make sure Belleville city officials support their idea before moving forward.

The property at 123 St. Eugene Drive is being advertised on several real-estate websites as a 25,000-square-foot “fully built-out restaurant with equipment” and up to 26 acres of land for additional development.

Questions about price are referred to Mark Kornfeld, a broker with Sansone Group, a national real-estate company based in St. Louis. He didn’t respond to a request for comment this week.

“(The) space is in excellent condition,” according to the property’s page on the LoopNet website.

The building formerly housed one of seven Hofbräuhaus of America franchises, patterned off the legendary German beer hall and restaurant in Munich whose roots date back to 1589.

The Belleville location, known as Hofbräuhaus St. Louis-Belleville, opened in 2018, two years later than developers promised. It closed in January 2023 after a series of financial and legal problems.

The project has been a disappointment for city officials, who spent $2.42 million to install sewer lines and approved $32.36 million in tax incentives tied to future revenue (the incentives were never paid). The expected development of a hotel and other businesses around the site didn’t materialize.

If the Babich project were to become a reality, it would be good for Belleville, according to Cliff Cross, the city’s director of economic development, zoning and building.

“We want to get something in there, right?” he said. “So, yeah, it’s great news. I look at it this way, if they get in there, and for some reason it doesn’t work, how much worse are we?”

The former Hofbräuhaus property is off Illinois 15, across from the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows.

The building sits on a 26-acre parcel owned by Oblate Shrines & Renewal Center, based in Washington, D.C., St. Clair County records show. That entity is affiliated with Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic congregation of priests and brothers who operate the Shrine.

The building is owned by Missionary Ventures, a limited-liability company that leased the land and developed Hofbräuhaus. But due to the company defaulting on a loan, Royal Banks of Missouri, the lien holder, persuaded a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge to appoint a receiver in 2019.

“He’s in control of the building and the ground lease,” said Michael Campbell, a St. Louis attorney who represents Richard Striler, the second person to serve as receiver in five years.

The Oblates have largely stayed silent on Hofbräuhaus issues over the years. This week, Billy Kauling, the Shrine’s director of business operations, referred questions to its director of finance, Joseph Pytlinski, who didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Glen and Norma Babich are natives of Canada. He has dual citizenship, and she’s in the process of getting it.

Glen Babich is a regional medical director for Wexford Health Sources, a national company that provides health care to inmates in jails and prisons. In addition to being a chef, Norma Babich is a butcher and baker who operates a catering business. They moved to Belleville in 2019.

The Babiches are interested in buying, not renting, the former Hofbräuhaus building and the land it sits on, so that’s one of the details that must be worked out before they begin planning in earnest, according to Glen Babich.

“We were thinking we could potentially open in December,” he said.

The Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to review the couple’s applications at its June 27 meeting.

Board members must decide whether to recommend that the full City Council approve a special-use permit for multiple uses (the project is labeled an “entertainment, conference and club complex” on the agenda) and whether to recommend that the Babiches get a liquor license.

Hofbräuhaus of America filed a trademark and copyright infringement lawsuit against operators of the Belleville location in March 2022 in U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Illinois.

The complaint alleged “irreparable harm and continuing damage to the reputation and business of both Hofbräuhaus and Hofbräu München.” The company later argued that the operators had violated their franchise agreement by selling domestic beer and installing arcade games and pool tables.

In March of this year, a federal judge ordered that all signs, furnishings and decor with the Hofbräuhaus name or logo be removed from inside and outside the building as part of a settlement agreement.

Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.