The Original Rockford Nostalgic Website


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Through the years Rockford had hundreds of different restaurants and lounges. Most were locally owned ventures. In the 1940's and 50's America's love with the automobile created another restaurant sector - The drive in restaurant and Rockford was no stranger to the trend. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Rockford started getting flooded with fast food and regional and national chain type restaurants added to the mix. On the following pages you will find a small sampling of what once was, and then like today Rockford people have enjoyed dining out.

J. Basford Restaurant and Bakery

J. Basford Restaurant and Bakery, 203 East State Street circa 1880

H.W. Gardner's Restaurant and Lunch Rooms

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H. W. Gardner's Restaurant and Lunch Rooms, 404 East State Street circa 1894. Open all night, tables reserved for the ladies, everything first class.

The Chick House Restaurant

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The Chick House Menu. The Chick House was a popular Rockford hotel that also was popular for their food. Above was the Christmas Day Menu from the hotel restaurant in 1896 where even Possum Stuffed with Sweet Potatoes was an option. More information on the Chick House can be found in the HOTEL section of this website.

Swarthout's Restaurant

Swarthout's Restaurant, 205 West State Street. An early Victorian Trade Card

Lerch's Lunch Room and Restaurant

Lerch's Lunchroom and Restaurant, 421 West State Street, pre-1900. Cyrus A. Lerch and son operated this lunchroom and restaurant that served fifteen cent meals. Standing in front of the lunchroom are Charlie Scheide on the left and Clarence C. Lerch.

The Capitol Luncheonette

Capitol Luncheonette, 1122 South Main Street. Opened in 1928 by Anthony J. Domino who later sold it to Joseph Cuccia. This short lived luncheonette was in the newly built Capitol Theater building and closed in 1933 but re-opened as the Empire Dinette that same year.

New Deal Cafe

New Deal Cafe, 422 Elm Street. Opened by Theodore Pappas in 1933 it was typical of small restaurants of the time with a lunch counter and booths. Notice the cigar boxes in the case on the right and it appears that there were coat hangers at every booth. There was no air conditioning and had fans placed in various places. Standing in front of the "Welcome Friends" sign is Theodore Pappas. The other two men are unknown. The cafe would change names in 1950

American Cafe

* Picture courtesy of Billy Pappas

American Cafe, 442 Elm Street. Theodore Pappas would remodel his New Deal Restaurant and re-open it as the American Cafe in 1951. Gone are the wooden booths replaced with cloth covered tables and fine chairs and the coat racks are now mounted on the wall. New lighting was installed and it seems that the cafe was now air conditioned. Possibly they were going after the female clientele as well with this updated look. Ted Pappas is first in line again in this photo. In 1957 he would sell the concern to Carl Canova and Evelyn Markee who would operate Evelyn's Coffee Shop Restaurant.

Thadwa Cafe

The Thadwa Cafe was located at 210 - 212 North Wyman in the southeast corner of the large basement in the Florence May Apartment Building facing Wyman Street in the early 1900's. The restaurant had an entry leading from North Main Street. For the convenience of the residents living in the Florence May that wished to utilize the cafe, there was a separate entryway for the apartments above. The Thadwa Cafe was operated by Mrs. Miner, more information on the Florence May Apartments can be found in another section of the website.

King Joy Lo Restaurant

King Joy Lo, 118 West State Street. Opened in 1919 by American born Wong S. Tong, this was Rockford's first Chinese restaurant. Tong would later open Mandarin Garden at 124 West State Street and would relocate to a new location in 1939. (See Below)

Mandarin Garden Restaurant

Mandarin Garden, 121 North Wyman Street. The Mandarin Garden was the second location of the restaurant opening in 1939. Another location opened under the name Kai-Tiki Restaurant at 4416 East State Street in 1972. The long time popular downtown restaurant was closed in 1975 due to urban renewal.

Der Rathskellar Restaurant

The Sausage Shop and Der Rathskellar at 1132 Auburn Street was opened in 1931 by Fred Goetz as a cheese and sausage shop. Goetz added beers, wines and liquors in 1933.  After much demand from carry out customers for sandwiches, Goetz built Der Rathskellar featuring German cuisine in the basement of the sausage shop. After being included in restaurant critic Duncan Hines “Adventures in Good Eating" book national attention was brought to Der Rathskellar. In 1976 the restaurant was sold to Betty & Dick Giesen and her son Michael DuPre. In 1996, a European bar for customers to enjoy a cold drink replaced the old deli cases.

In 2000, a devastating fire closed the restaurant for 9 months; the restaurant was rebuilt while keeping the Old World atmosphere. An outdoor Bier Garden, which seats an additional 100 customers, was added in 2009. Still in operation as one of Rockford s oldest restaurants.

Miss Rockford Diner

Miss Rockford Diner opened in February 1930 and was originally located in a railroad car at 1112 Broadway next to the Broadway Hotel building.

In 1936, the diner now owned by Al Lee, relocated the old railroad dining car to 1048 Charles Street, just east of Seventh Street. The comical sign on the front of the diner proclaims to Seat 30,000, 30 at a time. Serving Dinner, steaks and chops, and fresh ground beef hamburgers. Open every day from 5:30 A. M. Until 8 P. M. - Open Friday and Saturday until 2 A. M.

In May 1939 Lee would open another location under the Miss Rockford Cafe banner located next to the Hayes Hotel at 314 Elm Street. It appears the Elm Street location lasted for a little over a year.

The diner closed in 1956. It was re-opened in 1957 under different owners and called Rockford Diner and shared space with Andes’ Catering in the mid 1960's. It was closed and demolished for a parking lot around 1970.

The Redwood Restaurant

Redwood Restaurant, 307 South Main Street. Originally the White Dove Coffee Shop opened at this location in 1920. Purchased by the operator of the nearby Illinois Hotel's Illinois Cafe, Samuel P. Stavros. Stavros renamed the White Dove to the Main Restaurant, the name was again changed to the Redwood after a 1953 remodeling. In 1968 Stavros sold the restaurant. In 1991 the Redwood and building that housed it was sold and after extensive remodeling it operated as Sammy’s and Jesse's Place Restaurant and Bakery. Today Magpie Restaurant occupies the space.

Schrom's Trust Building Cafe

Schrom's Trust Building Cafe located at 110 South Main Street, opened on May 7, 1933 bringing to Rockford something new in eating establishments offering three-way service - fountain, booths and dining room. Those in a rush could use the counter fountain service, spacious booths for those who care to linger and chat privately and the spacious French Dining room on the second floor had an atmosphere of comfort and elegance.

Schrom's Cafe in the Rockford Trust Building would close its doors on Saturday February 17, 1951 after the termination its lease. Schrom's was established in 1915 by Frank Schrom, whose brothers Arthur and George became partners with him a short time later. Schrom's first restaurant was located in the 100 block of North Wyman Street. This was followed by a new eating establishment in 1918 located in the 100 block of North Main Street, which continued until 1938.The Schrom brothers also operated the restaurant in the Lafayette Hotel from 1927 to 1933, when the shift was made to the Trust Building location. The brothers association in business continued until 1933 when Frank Schrom died, leaving Arthur and George to continue the partnership, until Arthur's death in October 1950.

A new location for Schrom's Restaurant opened in July 1951, operated by the sons of Arthur, Gerald and Wayne at 203 South Main Street. Schrom's would end its run in Rockford in early 1964. In December 1964, the space formerly occupied by Schrom's was taken over by Andy's Sizzling Steaks.

The Chocolate Shop Restaurant

Click On Menu Above To Enlarge

A downtown institution for years the Chocolate Shop opened in 1925 at 225 South Main Street. Below is a menu from late October 1948.

The White House Restaurant

The White House Restaurant was located at 4644 Charles Street Road, also known as Route 5, which ran between Rockford and Cherry Valley. Opening in the building that formerly housed the Tip Top Tea Room, another fine dining establishment, doing business from 1935 until 1947. The White House Restaurant opened on August 22, 1948 and was owned by Lewis and Naomi Hoskins. They served, according to advertising "Fine Food" featuring Chicken, Steak and Sea Food Dinners. All home cooking, served in an appetizing manner.

The restaurant lasted until 1959 when it was closed. The parking lot for the restaurant was used to make room for a Phillips 66 Service Station which opened in 1961. The building that housed the restaurant is still standing and used as a residence.

Prince Ice Cream Castles

The first Prince Ice Cream Castle was built by Earl Prince in DeKalb in 1928. Prince would serve the Frozen Gold brand of ice cream, created and sold wholesale to Prince by his friend, Walter Fredenhagen, who owned an ice cream plant in Rushville, Illinois. Fredenhagen sold his wholesale business in 1930 and he teamed together with Prince to build many more Ice Cream Castles, and then sought out locations for them. Prince, meanwhile was building an ice cream plant to service the new locations. Prince Castle came to Rockford in 1935 with a location at 2801 West State Street, two more would open in 1941 at 907 Broadway and 512 East Jefferson Street. In the 1960's a location opened at 3805 East State Street.

Prince Castle on West State Street

Earl Prince was a part-time inventor and invented the "Multi mixer", the first machine to have multiple spindles to make more than one shake at once. He used them for the "One in a Millions" and also sold the machines to other operators, through his friend, super-salesman Ray Kroc, who he convinced to set up Prince Castle Sales with Ray as part owner. When Ray called on the McDonald Bros in California a few years later, he fell in love with the phenomenal business they were doing at their one hamburger stand and decided to make an offer to buy the rights to franchise McDonald’s, and of course the rest is history. Kroc sold his interest in Prince Castle Sales a few years after McDonald's began to take off. By 1955, a combination of circumstances forced the company to conclude that "we no longer had control of our own Prince Castle name, so they made the move to change the name to Cock Robin. By the 1960's the Cock Robin stores were sold one by one. Many times if they had a good manager, they would sell that store to the manager at a fair price. The Rockford stores remained Prince Castle after the sale and were the last ones in the country. They would all eventually close as the fast food wars heated up.

Rockford’s first Prince Castle at 2801 West State Street shown here with Don and Anne seated while Babe and Shirley are the servers. Dennis Johnson shared this photo with us and Shirley was his mom.

Howard Johnson's Restaurant

Howard Deering Johnson would assume business obligations left by his deceased father’s pharmacy and soda fountain in 1925. He would turn the money losing enterprise into a chain of restaurants and motels that eventually stretched across the United States. Howard Johnson's had 400 restaurants in 1954 and in 1955 the restaurant chain reached the Rockford area with a restaurant opening at 4820 N Second Street in Loves Park.

In 1954 company entered the lodging industry with its first motel. A second Rockford area Howard Johnson’s restaurant location would open at 3909 11th Street in 1963 in conjunction with an 84 room motel at that location. The restaurant at this location was originally separate from the adjacent motor lodge and was later connected to the interior when a convention space was added to the motel. In 1965 a third location opened at followed at 3730 E State Street. Increased completion rom fast food restaurants and a changing lifestyle led to the decline of the Howard Johnson restaurants. The Loves Park location was sold in the late 1960's. The Eleventh Street location was discontinued in the late 1980's and like the Loves Park location changed names and owners several times since. The East State location was changed into Howard Johnson's latest concept, The Ground Round in 1970.

The Ground Round

The Howard Johnson's Restaurant at 4200 East State Street closed in October of 1970 and reopened in early 1971 as The Ground Round. The restaurant specialized in ground beefsteaks with a "peanut shells on the floor” family friendly atmosphere where they also played old movies.  It was also a popular gathering spot for young adults. When the restaurant opened it was the third in the chain and by the time they shut their doors for good, it was the oldest operating unit in the chain.

Howard Johnson's sold the Ground Round chain to American Hospitality Concepts of Braintree, Massachusetts in 1997. The restaurant would close in 2004 after 33 years at that location.

B & K Restuarant

Opened as the B & K Coffee Cup at 1108 Broadway in 1937 it would soon move to the above location at the corner with Seventh Street and renamed to the B & K Restaurant at 1029 Broadway. Since closed.

The Pink Pony Restaurant & Lounge

Henry “Whitey” Larson and his wife Gertrude would open the Pink Pony Restaurant at 4421 Charles Street in 1934 and would operate the popular dining spot until 1958 when they sold the restaurant to Frederick R. Mau. Mau remained owner of the business until his sudden passing in 1968. Sam Armato was next in line to own the restaurant and did so until he sold it in 1978 to Jack Neisewander, who also owned the Branding Iron Restaurant. Neisewander would close the restaurant in 1994 due to a declining customer base. Two others would try and make the restaurant successful again, David Spencer in 1996 and Dan Block in 1999, unfortunately the business never returned to a sustainable volume and the restaurant that left so many fond memories for many of us would close its doors once again.

A Pink Pont menu from the 1970's - click on menu above to view

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