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Left, Scott Tillman: Zackrison's decision to pull out amid financial troubles led to closure. Right, Eric Zackrison: Tillman ignored advice to close the restaurant a year ago.
Left, Scott Tillman: Zackrison's decision to pull out amid financial troubles led to closure. Right, Eric Zackrison: Tillman ignored advice to close the restaurant a year ago.

Hickok's closing ignites duel

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Hickok’s Steakhouse & Brewery owner Scott Tillman abruptly closed the downtown Springfield restaurant the first weekend in August, and he’s blaming former business partner Eric Zackrison for the failed venture.

Tillman, a prominent downtown developer and landlord, said he closed Hickok’s after resolving bankruptcy-related issues with former business partner Eric Zackrison, owner of Patton Alley Pub – located right across the street.

Tillman renovated the former Mansfield Opera House building and opened Hickok’s with Eric and Julie Zackrison in December 2005. In May 2006, the trio debuted the restaurant’s microbrewery led by brew master Dave Lamb, formerly of Ebbets Field. Copperhead India Pale Ale and Calamity Blonde Belgian-style ale were among the popular microbrew varieties available at Hickok’s.

The Old West-themed steakhouse features a brick wall-painted portrait of James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, the gunfighter who cut down nemesis Dave Tutt in July 1865 on Park Central Square over a gambling debt.

Eric Zackrison said he helped Tillman develop the concept and menu for Hickok’s, but a rift between the two set into motion by Zackrison’s financial troubles last summer proved to be the beginning of the end for the restaurant.

In 2007, the Zackrisons filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and defaulted on a $1.3 million loan from First Home Savings Bank, prompting them to close Agrario fine-dining restaurant and the upstairs Bodega Bar opposite Hickok’s. Amid the upheaval, the Zackrisons reduced their ownership stake in Hickok’s to 10 percent.

In an Aug. 3 letter to Urban Districts Alliance Executive Director Rusty Worley, Tillman – a creditor in the Zackrisons’ bankruptcy case – said he loaned money to Zackrison to purchase equipment for Hickok’s in preparation for the restaurant’s opening. Zackrison, however, said in a prepared statement that Tillman is distorting what was a joint venture stemming from a “mutually originated” idea.

“From the beginning, Scott Tillman knew he was involving himself in a risky business,” Zackrison’s statement read. “It is unfortunate that Hickok’s was not successful, but it is erroneous to claim that Eric Zackrison is responsible for its demise and to say that he was responsible for its financial difficulties.”

Zackrison also bristled at Tillman’s assertion that he became the restaurant’s de facto manager when Zackrison walked away from his management responsibilities at Hickok’s last summer. Zackrison said he only resigned after Tillman ignored his advice to close the steakhouse.

Tillman stated in his letter that he “made the decision to keep Hickok’s open until Mr. Zackrison’s bankruptcy was resolved to maximize the value of the money he owed to us. We now have a resolution on that matter.”

In June, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge approved the Zackrisons’ amended Chapter 11 reorganization plan and issued an order approving their request to sell the Patton Alley Pub and former Agrario buildings at 311 and 313 S. Patton Ave. to Zan LLC for $980,000, court records show.

Zan is a nightclub owned by Billy Jalili, owner of Touch and Flame restaurants, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State’s office. Court records show Jalili outbid downtown entrepreneur and Big Whiskeys owner Paul Sundy for the Zackrisons’ Patton Avenue buildings.

In an Aug. 5 phone interview, Tillman said he never intended to run Hickok’s but had little choice when Zackrison backed out.

“I decided to keep it open for a while and see what happened with it,” Tillman said. “But restaurants are tough. I’m not a restaurateur; I’m the first to admit it. … I’m a developer and land owner.”

Tillman said inquiries about the Hickok’s space have recently picked up, and Wilhoit Properties leasing agent Ken Schwab said he’s negotiating a lease agreement with an undisclosed prospective tenant.

Tillman is marketing the three-story, 18,000-square-foot Hickok’s building for lease at $10 per square foot or for purchase at a list price of $1.6 million, or about $89 per square foot, Schwab said in an e-mail. According to previous Springfield Business Journal coverage, Hickok’s can seat 170 people on two floors, with room for another 350 people in a third-floor banquet room.

Customers who had booked Hickok’s banquet room this summer were scrambling to find other venues for their events last week.

Becky Barnes said she was able to move an Aug. 9 surprise birthday party for her sister’s boyfriend – a member of local band Speakeasy – to nearby Flame after learning Tillman had closed Hickok’s. The new venue was more expensive, but Barnes said Flame employees worked quickly to accommodate the party, which had a guest list of more than 100 people – some traveling from other states.

Barnes said she’s a friend of Hickok’s General Manager Jared Comer, who has worked at the restaurant since it opened in 2005. She said Comer, who was not notified ahead of time that the restaurant was closing, is working to help Hickok’s customers rebook their events elsewhere. Comer and chef John Burke were among 32 employees who lost their jobs when Hickok’s closed.[[In-content Ad]]


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