Kwik Trip is making plans to build a brand new store on the site of the current The New Pine Ridge Restaurant/Cenex convenience store. Kwik Trip has an accepted offer to purchase the property from owner Kim Alimi. Alimi has in turn made an offer to purchase Champ’s Restaurant on Center Avenue from owner Ryan Schwartzman. Alimi said his ultimate intent is to rebuild a family restaurant in the Pine Ridge area. Alimi emphasized that the deal with Kwik Trip has not been finalized and his offer to purchase Champ’s is contingent upon the sale of the Pine Ridge property.
“Everything is not 100 percent yet,” Alimi said.
Alimi’s plans for Champ’s would include a full interior and exterior renovation of the restaurant. Buying Champ’s, he said, will allow him to continue serving customers in Merrill while pursuing plans to build a new restaurant in the Pine Ridge area. Champ’s would remain in operation after a new restaurant is built. He does not intend to incorporate a gas station or convenience store – which were attached to the Pine Ridge Restaurant when he purchased it - into a new restaurant.
Meanwhile, Kwik Trip is planning for construction of a new facility on the two-and-a-half acre Pine Ridge Restaurant property. The new, 6,000-square-foot Kwik Trip building would be similar to the one recently built near Menard’s in Wausau, said Hans Zietlow, Kwik Trip’s director of real estate. The facility will feature 20 gas fueling positions with diesel on the side.
With the purchase agreement in place, Zietlow said Kwik Trip has finished the site survey and is working with the city of Merrill in preparation to submit designs to obtain building permits.
The new Merrill store is one of 34 Kwik Trip stores slated for construction in 2014. Zietlow said the company expects to close on the property in May, demolish the existing restaurant/convenience store and start construction of the new building in August. He said he anticipates completion in December 2014. The new Merrill location represents a roughly $4 million investment by Kwik Trip.
The existing Kwik Trip at the corner of East Main Street and Memorial Drive will remain open at that location. The new location will be geared toward highway travelers, Zietlow said.
“We’ll be closer to Hwy. 51. Our present store can’t catch the highway traffic,” he said. “We see Merrill as becoming more of a regional draw.”
Kwik Trip is a family owned company based in La Crosse, WI. They have stores throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
For Schwartzman, selling Champ’s wasn’t in his plans until he was approached by Alimi last Thursday. Faced with an offer he couldn’t refuse, Schwartzman agreed to sell.
“I wasn’t looking to sell, but any smart businessperson has a buyout number and he met my number,” Schwartzman said.
Champ’s has been owned by the Schwartzman family for 20 years, and by Ryan for almost 15 years.
“It was not an easy decision to sell,” he said, “because my employees and my customers are my family. About 90 percent of my business has been regular, local customers.”
Schwartzman is planning to close the restaurant under his ownership Feb. 16. He’ll then decide whether he wants to go back to college and build on his experience in business and politics, or take one of the several job offers he’s already gotten. He will also have the luxury of more time to spend with his wife and two young children.
“I love being a business owner,” he said. “It’s tough to sell, but I also love being and husband and father.”