Michael Naughton’s fondest memories of his childhood are the Friday nights the family would all hop into the car and head to Mama Maria’s restaurant in Elmhurst. It was a tradition, the kind of thing he’d like to share with Brookfield.
In August he hopes to open that traditional family gathering place — The Blue Caboose, a train-themed, family friendly restaurant at 8420 Brookfield Ave. in the Hollywood section of Brookfield.
“I wanted to build a place where families come. I want something very kid-friendly, with homemade food that’s affordable.”
Naughton, 36, moved to Brookfield three years ago and for the last couple of years has eyed the corner property at Hollywood and Brookfield avenues, across the street from the Zoo Stop on the Metra line.
Over the past decade, the building has housed The Paw, The Station and Mind Your Own Business, the last of which closed in 2012. Since then, the space has sat vacant; the building remains for sale.
But the location is just what Naughton was looking for, he says.
“I like this spot because it’s by the train and the zoo,” Naughton said. “I just feel Brookfield needs something for family night, and I didn’t think there was any better spot than close to the zoo.”
Naughton said he want to create a “wow” factor for families, kids especially, when they walk in the door. Blue lighting, a G-scale train chugging overhead on a track suspended from the ceiling and a counter where another G-scale train delivers food to waiting customers is all part of the concept of The Blue Caboose.
TVs on the walls will air kid shows like “Thomas the Tank Engine” and “Finding Nemo” while others will be tuned to sports for adults. On weekends, Naughton says he’ll plan special events, such as visits by costumed super heroes, face painting and maybe even kids karaoke.
The Blue Caboose will also be incorporating the smaller space that fronts Hollywood Avenue (which served in past incarnations as the Cyberdog Café and the bar for The Station) for private parties and for restaurant overflow. The restaurant will offer package deals for birthday parties.
Naughton said the food will revolve around kid-friendly items but will include items such as burgers, wraps, salads, pulled pork sandwiches and a daily sloppy joe special. He also will be serving gluten-free lasagna, vegetarian items and a Friday fish special, he said.
Key to making the restaurant a spot families will return to, he said, is making sure the food remains affordable.
“I want a family of four to be able to have dinner for $40 out the door,” Naughton said. “Our whole thing is to keep it affordable and for the kids to have a blast.”
Naughton said he’s still working on a couple of other possibilities for the restaurant, including offering zoo visitors a to-go picnic menu of items they can bring along as they head north toward Brookfield Zoo.
He’s also hoping to be able to begin showing pro football games in the fall, a place where dads can watch the game while the kids enjoy the restaurant.
The Blue Caboose is slated to be open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Naughton said he hopes to open the doors by mid-August.