JOLIET – Restaurants in downtown Joliet have come and gone in recent years. But some have had staying power.
The secret ingredients to success seem to be a combination of hard work, good food and a little help from family and friends.
Pat Reimer opened Chicken-N-Spice in 1979 – just when businesses were leaving downtown for the new indoor malls.
“I thought to myself, ‘Good choice, Pat. Way to go,’ ” said Reimer, looking back at the decision to open in a spot that had been a Jack in the Box.
Downtown has been in transition ever since. But Reimer said it is a market with opportunity.
“There’s 5,000 people downtown,” she said, citing the estimated number of daily workers. “There’s lots of business for all of us.”
Reimer first opened Chicken-N-Spice in Rockford and Beloit. Neither site survived. Joliet was closer to home, and Reimer could be there daily.
“I had faith and confidence in my product,” she said. “I felt it needed my total attention.”
Consistency is important, Reimer said. Chicken-N-Spice, 251 N. Chicago St., opens every day at 7:30 a.m. Her recipes have not changed since 1979.
“People will come in and say, ‘I’ve been away seven years. I hope it tastes the same,’ ” Reimer said. “I say, ‘I hope it tastes the same, too. We haven’t changed anything.’ ”
Joliet Route 66 Diner
Speaking of keeping things the same, the Joliet Route 66 Diner, 22 W. Clinton St., has the same tables and chairs it did when John Georgouses bought the place 20 years ago.
To his delight, Route 66 tourists discovered the diner and loved its retro atmosphere. When people from places such as Germany and New Zealand kept stopping in, Georgouses added Route 66 to what he had called the Joliet Restaurant.
He said success depends on keeping regular customers happy – the people who work at City Hall, the county building and other downtown offices – and paying close attention to what goes on in the kitchen.
“It all happens in the kitchen,” he said. “You’ve got to know what you’re doing. If you depend on your employees to run your kitchen, that’s a big mistake.”
He does take two or three weeks of vacation.
“I go every three or four years,” he said. He added that in the past 20 years, he’s never taken a sick day.
Georgouses took over a site that was a restaurant for decades. Long-time Jolietans may remember the place as the Peter Piper Restaurant. But the first two years were tough, Georgouses said, and he seriously thought about getting out.
“You have to keep going with what you’re doing, and do it right,” Georgouses said. “You don’t have to copy other restaurants.”
Doing business downtown is challenging, said Gina Duffy. But her Jitters coffeehouse, 178 N. Chicago St., marked its 10th year of business in September.
“We were grateful that we made it to that day,” Duffy said. “It’s been a big effort by a lot of people.”
Friends and family provide a lot of support, helping run the coffeehouse and making deliveries, Duffy said. Regular customers include neighboring business people.
Duffy has warm memories of downtown Joliet from the days when she would meet her mother, who worked at First National Bank of Joliet, for lunch.
“If you’re looking to make a million dollars, downtown is not where you want to be,” she said. “You’re downtown because you love downtown.”