Tavern license awarded to new owner of The Lantern in Naperville

The ownership of The Lantern in downtown Naperville is changing, but traditions that date back nearly six decades are not.

Naperville resident Mike LaCoco said he expects to complete the purchase of the tavern, which has been owned and operated by the Feldott family since 1966, within the next 30 days.

Since the city does not allow the transfer of licenses to new owners, the sale of The Lantern was contingent upon LaCoco acquiring the same Class C tavern and package store license that the owners currently own. – a request approved by the Naperville Liquor Commission this week with a 4-2 vote.

Such a license allows the business to serve alcohol without providing catering service, although The Lantern has a kitchen and a menu of appetizers, sandwiches and salads.

Besides The Lantern, only four other Naperville establishments have tavern licenses: Judd Kendall VFW Post 2873 west of downtown, It’s a Southern Thing on Freedom Drive, and Miss Kitty’s Saloon and White Tavern, both on Ogden Ave.

LaCoco, which owns investment properties and Naperville Auto Haus on Ogden Avenue, said he wants everything to stay the same, including the hiring of Teri Feldott as manager.

“I’m more or less new to this, so it’s kind of a turnkey business. I don’t know all the ins and outs of this, but that’s why I’m holding people back moving forward,” he said.

Among the properties LaCoco owned, he said, was an old Taco Bell on Ogden Avenue that he rented from the founders of Naf Naf Grill.

Although they sometimes struggled to pay the rent, LaCoco said he believed they would be successful and now Naf Naf is a chain of 36 restaurants with locations in 12 states.

LaCoco said he hopes the city has a similar belief in him.

For Teri Feldott, the sale of the bar on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Washington Street is bittersweet.

“To be honest, it was devastating to realize that the legacy is ending,” she said.

What comforts her, she says, is knowing that LaCoco doesn’t want to change anything and that she can help him carry on the traditions that set The Lantern apart from other downtown businesses.

As someone born and raised in Naperville, Feldott said he’s seen the city change for the better over the years. “We’re a little whimsical now, and I love it,” she said.

But The Lantern is a throwback to an earlier era, with a neighborhood bar look that can’t be found elsewhere in the city center, she said. “We’re far from fancy,” Feldott said.

“We always have free popcorn and chili during (Chicago) Bears (football) games on Sunday. We are very comfortable,” she said.

North Central College alumni bring their families, she said, and kids who came with their parents and got a lollipop behind the bar bring their children to do the same.

Even customers who have left Naperville make it a point to visit, she says, and always say the same thing: “That’s how I remember it.”

Patrons watch North Central College play in the NCAA Division III Football National Championship at The Lantern in downtown Naperville in 2021. Popular with sports fans, the tavern offers free chili on Sundays during the Chicago Bears football.

Feldott said she hopes LaCoco will keep the restaurant and its traditions alive. Calling it a tavern fits the bill because sometimes they don’t open the kitchen, she said.

On Thanksgiving Day, for example, they open early so families and friends can watch the Naperville Noon Lions Turkey Trot 5K runners. “We sell a ton of Bloody Marys and then close and vacation with our families,” Feldott said.

Additionally, The Lantern opens early for the Memorial Day and Labor Day parades.

“It’s just a really fun day, and we’re just serving drinks. We don’t have to worry about food, which is nice. And then we all go home,” Feldott said.

Initially, Mayor Steve Chirico and other members of the liquor commission were concerned about giving a Class C license to someone with no background in the restaurant or bar industry.

Most establishments in the city receive a Class B license, which requires the primary purpose of the business to be meal service with which alcohol may be served.

Commissioner Mitch Stauffer, who cast one of the dissenting votes, said the city had been very intentional in avoiding issuing tavern licenses, especially downtown.

“We don’t want downtown Naperville to be a Street Rush,” he said.

Stauffer said it seemed like the only reason The Lantern had a tavern license was to keep a tradition going for a few days a year. “But you’re asking for an eight-lane highway license to accommodate a few vacations, which I don’t think is fundamental to the business,” he said.

Many of the stewards’ fears were allayed when LaCoco stressed that management would not change.

Commissioner Karyn Charvat said she was drawn to how the family supports the new property. “I feel like the family really knows this business model best for 57 years,” she said.

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The Naperville Liquor Commission this week granted a tavern license to Mike LaCoco, the new owner of The Lantern in downtown Naperville.

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