It was lights out last week at Champps

City leaders express surprise that sports restaurant closed

Maplewood Champps Americana, a popular sports bar and restaurant for over two decades, closed last week.

The restaurant, originally a Fox & Hounds, was located at Larpenteur Avenue and Interstate 35E. Assistant Maplewood city manager Melinda Coleman described Champps as a “good community amenity” and added she was sorry to hear it had closed.

She said city officials had no forewarning that it was going to be shuttered and learned about it through media reports.

The franchisee for the Maplewood Champps was Wayne Belisle, who has additional Champps restaurants in New Brighton, Woodbury, and Des Moines, Iowa.

While no one reason has been linked directly to the restaurant’s demise, the extensive road construction on I-35E appears to have played a role.

The roadwork began in February 2014 and is expected to continue into late 2015.

Access to Champps was severely limited the weekend of March 7-9, when the interstate was completely closed between St. Paul and Highway 36 so crews could remove overpass bridges.

Minnesota Department of Transportation has already announced motorists can expect lane closures throughout the summer due to the major reconstruction.

While Belisle could not give an exact figure, he said the majority, perhaps as high as 80 percent, of his patrons accessed the restaurant from the interstate. He said only about 20 percent came from the surrounding neighborhood via Larpenteur Avenue.

He added that Champps was visible from the freeway and that helped raise the establishment’s profile and draw in customers.

“It was definitely a combination of factors,” Belisle said in an interview last week. “There’s just some stuff I can’t talk about.”

Belisle said he no longer has ownership of the property associated with the Maplewood location, and is not aware of its future prospects.

“Certainly, we’re disappointed that they closed,” said Michael Thompson, Maplewood public works director. “Everybody enjoyed having them here. Certainly, even myself. I liked to go down there and grab a burger here and there. It’s a loss for the city of Maplewood and the community.”

Kansas-based F&H Acquisition Corp., owns 35 Champps sites, including the now-closed Maplewood property. F&H filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2013. However, no direct connection was found between the corporate financial troubles and the closing of the Maplewood franchise.

The first Champps was opened in 1984 by Dean Vlahos and is still-operating in the same St. Paul location.

Originally under the name “Concourse 7,” the title quickly changed to “Champps Americana,” with over 50 locations to follow soon after.

Champps became one of the first restaurants to adopt the “sports bar” concept. Amenities of such a place generally include: large television sets, typically with a sporting event being broadcast, as well as music and a general bar area.

The concept has grown widespread in popularity, with national chains like Buffalo Wild Wings, along with more local chains such as Joe Senser’s, arriving since then.

Tim Faklis can be reached at tfaklis@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7814.

 

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