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The Johnny's Italian Steakhouse experience now will be available down the tracks at the Abbey Station in Rock Island. 

Leadership from the Johnny's and its owner, Heart of America Group, joined Abbey Station co-owner Joe Lemon Jr. on Friday to announce the Moline restaurant now is the sole operator of events at the historic venue.

Mike Whalen, founder and co-owner of Heart of America, said his company is "delighted to work with such an outstanding family" and to extend the Johnny's brand to the building.

The facility, with its 35-foot ceilings and unique architecture, will continue to host wedding receptions, community fundraisers, family celebrations, business gatherings and other social events. Johnny's staff will manage marketing and booking the space.

"This is such a beautiful, beautiful building," Whalen said, adding he hopes the new partnership raises more awareness of the Abbey Station. "You can drive by it but you can't understand the grandeur of this space unless you come in." 

Lemon said the converted depot has been a project his family has been committed to since the late 1990s, when the city of Rock Island approached them. "My family has a real commitment to high quality and this is just an extension of that," he said of the new partnership.

At the time, the Lemons also owned The Abbey Hotel in Bettendorf, which today houses The Abbey Addiction Treatment Center. Lemon is the treatment center's executive director.

Lemon said the new partnership will drive increased activity to the circa 1901 building. "Ten years ago, we had weddings every weekend, but we've not had that kind of volume the last several years," Lemon said. "Part of the issue is with the mission we have with the Abbey Addiction Treatment facility, I've had less time to allocate to this (Abbey Station)."

Whalen said Johnny's is often asked by area venues to be a food and beverage partner. "We turn down people all the time," he said, adding, "This is the kind of space we can take people into and get the Johnny's experience."

Jack Viviani, Johnny's managing partner, will lead the operation as an extension of the restaurant on John Deere Commons. "You walk in here, put Johnny's music on and we have a whole new venue," he said.

With the Abbey Station site, Johnny's will have an off-site venue that seats as many as 250 people. It also has an off-site venue at Metro Station in downtown Moline, adjacent to its restaurant.

"Welcome to Rock Island," the city's Mayor Mike Thoms said the Moline-based Heart of America. "We are excited that Johnny's Italian Steakhouse is expanding and bringing their hospitality experience and fine reputation to Rock Island."

Viviani said the expansion will create 20 to 25 new jobs as well as require staffing by Johnny's 75 employees, who they refer to as  "performers."

As a reception venue Whalen said Abbey Station "is a sweet size, in the sense that there are few weddings or public gatherings (locally) that need more space."

For more information about events, contact Johnny's Italian Steakhouse at 309-736-0100.

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