Student story: Penn Station opens near Belleville East

Belleville East High SchoolApril 28, 2014 

Penn Station opened its new Belleville location just down the street from Belleville East High School.

Store owners Lisa and Atif Khan knew East students and faculty would be loyal customers so, with an ID, students and faculty get 10 percent off their orders.

The road to the new restaurant was not effortless. The Khans began looking for a site last summer. They checked everywhere from Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville to the current location.

Once they found out the former White Castle on Carlyle Avenue was not available, they looked into the old Blockbuster location.

At first they had their doubts. Lisa Khan remembers saying to her husband, "Maybe it's just not going to work." Her doubts quickly left and the two signed the lease in December.

The biggest hardship with the new building was the tile. An estimated three-day job turned into an 11-day job and every other worker had to move around the tile worker.

This caused a few complications, but "there's always glitches," Lisa Khan said. The opening of the store April 1 seemed to be perfect.

The store owner wanted to establish a relationship with East students before summer began. "April is a good time, because we have time to get noticed by East," Lisa Khan said.

The business has definitely been noticed, judging by the rushes around lunch and dinner. Prior to opening, Khan admits, "We were surprised there was a buzz in town about the business."

Penn Station takes pride in being a family business, and the Khans' son Ameel works at the new Belleville location.

While Lisa and her husband Atif ran the Fairview Heights Penn Station location, Ameel watched.

At age 13, he came in and worked.

"He learned a lot at that time," Lisa Khan said.

Ameel's parents wanted him to try working another job before officially starting at Penn Station. He worked at McDonald's for approximately seven months before being hired onto the Belleville Penn Station team.

"He's going to be a really good worker here," Lisa Khan said.

Working in a store owned by his parents does put pressure on Ameel.

"The success of the store is going to affect the success of our family so I feel like I put more dedication into the job," Ameel Khan said.

As the opening of the business neared, Ameel had to face the hardships of friends asking for jobs. In order to prevent ruining any friendships, the Khans didn't hire Ameel's friends.

Instead, Ameel had to become friends with his new coworkers.

"I try to build a relationship with employees and customers, because that is true business," Ameel Khan said.

His mother added, "We try to turn every experience into something positive because that's what they're going to remember."

When asked about the best part of the job, Ameel said, "I like how we can actually take pride in our work."

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