La Lucé Italian Restaurant's Michael Moretti and his family feel that they've been priced out of the West Loop. After 27 years, the Italian restaurant near the United Center is closed and the 127-year-old building that housed the eatery is in the process of being sold. Moretti won't say exactly what the purchaser's plans are for the building, but a new restaurant is likely part of them.
Customers came by Thursday after news hit about the closure. They snapped photos of the building, and some posted comments on social media wondering if La Lucé would reopen at a new location. Moretti said the family has already started scouting new locations, but nothing is certain. The key is finding a large enough space with room for private events. That's where La Lucé made most of their money in the current restaurant climate.
Sales peaked in 2010 after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, but the last six years have been a struggle. Moretti saw restaurant groups throw around more money with ease, and that made a sale appealing.
"We were property rich and restaurant poor," he said. "We couldn't sell enough product to justify what we had to offer."
They'll take the money from the sale and hopefully invest in a new space. Likewise, it's not a sure bet that crews will tear down the 19th Century building, as Moretti said the new owners seemed smitten by its history. Moretti flashed back to the work his family put into the building before opening in 1989. They gutted the place. Ironically, those renovations are what made the structure ineligible for landmark protection, thus vulnerable to demolition.
"It was horrible around here," Moretti recalled. "You're talking about pimps, hookers, forklift trucks. The pickle factory was going. It was insane."
Almost three decades later, the area is tranquil enough and attractive to restaurant groups with money to burn. The building is being a purchased by an hospitality group. Moretti wouldn't identify them.
It's bittersweet for Moretti, who wished the family had the seed money to transform the property. La Lucé will always have memories in the West Loop, but the family is looking elsewhere for a new restaurant. Meanwhile, he thanks the customers who came in for communions, engagements, graduations and other events.
"We want to thank all of our customers who've been loyal for so many years," he said. "From our deepest hearts, we appreciate their business."