STERLING – Some people would look at bricks and mortar and see a wall. Lisa Escamilla saw inspiration.
When Escamilla, 43, had the chance to buy the former Champs Bar and Grill at 216 Locust St., she saw it as a building block for her future, renaming it Lisa’s Brick House.
“For me it signified two major things,” the Sterling native said. “The exposed interior brick wall, of course, but also building a solid foundation for family and friends.”
Lisa's no stranger to the bar-and-grill scene, having worked at the Champs for 15 years.
“This was a big step for me. I’ve always wanted to be a business owner. I knew that in high school,” she said. “I really enjoyed working as a bartender and now I’ve taken the next step.”
Lisa bought the business from her former boss, Denny Strader, 61, who ran it for 26 years. He sold the downstairs portion and kept the upstairs Champs Banquet Venue, with the entrance at 9 E. Third St., and opened a new bar, Champs on Light Street, next to it, with its entrance off Light Street, the alley that runs by Champs.
Since taking ownership in January, she’s gotten her house in order, remodeling and updating and the interior, including new bar tops, kitchen equipment and TVs. Escamilla has also added a wider selection of craft beers, bourbons and whiskeys, and she’s rolled out drink and food specials.
Some things have remained the same. She considers herself fortunate that many staff members stayed on, providing the same comfortable atmosphere customers have come to appreciate. Escamilla enjoys the “Cheers” bar feeling, where regular customers meet and newcomers are warmly welcomed.
On the grill side, menu favorites include burgers and sliders made from fresh – never frozen – beef, Philly cheese sandwiches, chicken strips, and grilled cheese sandwiches, along with sides and appetizers.
As for the burgers, customers call the shots when it comes to toppings, whether they like their patty plain or loaded down like a Dagwood special. A condiment bar lets customers load burgers up with toppings of their choice.
Lisa’s offers all-you-can-eat breakfast from 9 a.m. to noon each Sunday, a morning meal that’s become increasingly popular with a broad range of customers.
“We see everyone," she said, "from people coming for breakfast after church to groups of teachers.”
Lisa's also has gambling machines, a popular draw for customers.
With a half dozen beverage and eating establishments lining the block, one might think competition would be challenge, but Escamilla has an interesting perspective on her neighbors.
“We all have something a little different to offer and each have our specialty. Actually, it’s pretty friendly,” she said. “We all get along well and are all busy.”
She is also enthusiastic about the potential of neighborhood bars and restaurants partnering with Sterling Main Street and the pop-up markets planned for Dale Park, located just around the corner.
Not surprising, Escamilla has found time management to be challenging at times, especially considering she is the mother of four children, Eryca, 19, Presley, 12, Ryleigh, 5, and Elleigh, 3.
Her son struggles with non-verbal autism and she is grateful for the occasions when she’s able to involve him on weekend mornings when she’s preparing to open for business.
“I’m so proud of him, who he is and how he shapes us as a family,” she said.
Her younger daughters also like to be involved in pre-opening cleaning and preparation. She enjoys sharing what she does with her children. Her youngest daughter is especially excited about helping out and frequently asks if she can “come with mommy to work”.
“There has been some talk about naming her Employee of the Week,” Escamilla joked.
She is extremely gratefully for the help and support of not only her children, but mother, fiance, sisters and niece.
“I have such amazing people in my life. I am so lucky to have a strong support system,” she said. “It is what has made owning my own business so rewarding – the opportunity to share. They helped me believe in myself and are helping me build that strong foundation.”
LISA'S BRICK HOUSE
Address: 216 Locust St., Sterling
Phone: 815-590-5472 (LISA)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday
Grill hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday