One thing that I love about this blog is meeting new and interesting people that live here and want to make a difference in either a big or a small way. Erik Reader moved here with his wife Danielle from Dallas two years ago and he wants to make a difference in a very big way. He started and is the President of his own company, Reader Area Development. Erik has some great ideas on redeveloping the urban areas of Peoria and making them viable and functioning neighborhoods and stores again. He’s not talking about just flipping houses to make a profit and then running away from the neighborhood once the sale is complete. Watch this video and he’ll explain what he’s hoping to do.
Erik has bought a house, but needs funds and help to finish it and start his plan of urban redevelopment in Peoria. You can read more about what Erik wants to do for this area and more importantly, you can donate to this fine cause. Here’s the link, check it out and donate. I gave 100 bucks and challenge all of you to at least throw in at least five dollars to make Erik’s dream happen.
After emailing back and forth we decided to have lunch and Erik chose a restaurant I drive by often, but haven’t stopped in yet. So let’s go have lunch with Erik Reader.
Here we are at El Mexicano on Jefferson Street in downtown Peoria. I've driven by this place so many times and I've always meant to stop in. And now I'm finally doing it.
The "Open" sign is blazing and that's always a good thing!
It's nice and cozy in here and there's a decent crowd enjoying lunch. It smells great in here and I can't wait to try the food.
Blue booths line the walls and I chose this one to sit in. As usual, I'm about 40 minutes early, so let's take a look around in here.
Here's the pictured menus on the wall, lots of items to choose from in here. I'm definitely going to try the cheese fries.
Here's Chris enjoying lunch, he told me he's a regular in here.
He told me his daughter, Anastasia helped touch up the painting in the front window and fix the perspective on it. I love that painting, by the way.
A framed photo of some press clippings and the first dollar spent in here hangs on the wall near my booth.
Here's a positive review from the Peoria Journal Star. They gave El Mexicano three and a half stars. Very impressive!
Let's take a sneak peek at the kitchen area behind the front counter.
This guy's busy back here cooking up all the luncheon orders that are flying in.
He's doing a nice job, everything looks and smells delicious back here. I can't wait to sample the food in here.
Here's Lucy who owns the restaurant with her father. What a gorgeous smile!
Okay, I've settled in to the booth and Erik should be here at any moment now.
And here he is, right on time, today's luncheon guest, Erik Reader!
The lunch starts out with complimentary chips and salsa. And these chips are made on the premises, they didn't come out of a bag.
Friendly waitress Gabby takes our orders and the luncheon process has begun.
We started off with an order of the cheese fries. They were really good and I'm glad we split the order because they give you a heaping mound of fries drenched in tangy, melted cheese.
Eric got the burrito which comes with rice and beans. Can you believe how big it is? Mucho grande!
I ordered the sliced chicken torta sandwich. I've never had one and Gabby recommended it. It looks great!
This was so good! Lots of spicy chicken topped with lettuce, chopped onions and tomatoes and a zingy sauce. Delicious!
Throughout lunch Erik told me about his plans and dreams for redeveloping downtown Peoria and it was great to hear his thoughts. This is a man who's passionate about what he's doing. He offered to show me the house he's working on right now.
And through the magic of the internet it's off we go. Zooming around in downtown Peoria.
This is the house Eric purchased and is starting to renovate. He offered to give us a little tour of the place.
Erik opens the door...
And here we are. I asked Erik to email me some specific thoughts about what he's trying to accomplish with his business and you can read what he sent me in the captions below.
"Why Reader Area Development as opposed to Reader Properties or Reader Investments? Well, RAD not only has a better ring to it, but it also shows that the importance of what my company is trying to accomplish. It isn't just about prying as much profit out of one property but how each of these properties is part of the bigger picture. It's about how renovating these distressed homes can help the neighborhood, streets, schools, parks, and surrounding businesses."
"If I were to fix one home it doesn't change a thing. But if I can take on another after this and another, and more people start realizing how great these older areas are not for what used to be, but for what's to come - that's when the greater movement takes place. People start moving back, the bonds between people strengthen, businesses start popping up again, and then the neighborhood becomes whole again.
By contributing to my GO URBAN project or sponsoring a particular piece that needs to be put back you can help me bridge the gap of what traditional lending can't provide, the risk that municipalities are afraid to take, and create a sustainable business model that reinvests in local business and helps restore broken parts of the city."
"I am not asking for people to buy the house, pay for it all, have people volunteer their time, and then me collect the cash and be done. I bought it, I've done the demo to get it ready. Instead of purchasing goods at big conglomerates whose profits go out of the area I want to keep it local. You can sponsor windows, doors, floors, appliances, landscaping, kitchen and bath - or you can contribute money that will go directly to hire local businesses in those areas. I want to show Peoria that it can be creative, progressive, and even take a smart risk to improve itself.
The project ends next week on Wednesday, April 17th and right now I've reached $1,416 of the $5,000. You can contribute from one buck all the way up to forty thousand which actually buys the house when it's done."
Thanks for the insight, Erik. I think it's great what he wants to do for the area here and i hope you all can contribute so he can continue his dream of making this city's urban area thrive once again. If you're interested in contributing, just click here.
Thoughts for Food
Favorite pizza in Peoria (or nearby, this applies to all questions): I love food carts as much as the next guy, and there is this wood-fired pizza place called Brienzo's that hits local festivals.
Recommendation for Saturday Night Cheeseburger: Ludy's in Kickapoo.
If you could take a trip back in time, where would you eat a meal in Peoria? Anywhere downtown in the 1920's where I could have a whiskey.
Even though you should try to eat local, the one chain restaurant in Peoria I would recommend is: Qdoba, the queso burrito.
Favorite local sandwich: The Cuban from One World on Main Street.
Best little out of the way joint I know is: Coney Island in Galesburg (way outta the way!)
Someplace that has really good pub grub is: Ulrich's on Main Street.
My favorite spot for breakfast is: The Harvest Cafe in Delavan.
And my favorite spot to have lunch at is: The Hofbrau, go with the Reuben.
If you had to choose a last meal in Peoria, what would it be (feel free to use items from different restaurants): Burger from Ludy's, potato salad from the Hofbrau and the highest ABV beer from Rhodell's.
Bonus Photo From Jaws the Cabbie!
Jaws sent in this photo from his window where there's over a foot of snow outside! Hope you stocked up on booze, Jaws! And be looking for Jaws' latest Peoria story coming up this Sunday!