OK, first things first: The cow is staying.
“The cow is going to be restored,” said Tony Hernandez Sr., owner of Tony’s Family Restaurant, 9414 Ogden Ave. in Brookfield, which will be moving down the street to the corner of Prairie and Ogden later this year, taking over the old Brookfield Restaurant space.
A life-size cow statue on the roof of the Brookfield Restaurant was not only the business’ mascot but also a local landmark, a directional guide. When it was removed recently as renovation work commenced on the building 8900 Ogden Ave., it sparked a wave of speculation on social media.
“The cow’s in the corral,” said Hernandez, who has operated his eponymous 24-hour restaurant on Ogden Avenue for a dozen years. “We have to find somebody who will do a good job to paint it.”
In the meantime, Hernandez is busy in the kitchen at Tony’s as head chef while workers move forward on a complete gut rehab of the old Brookfield Restaurant that will cost an estimated $400,000.
The renovated space will have all new utilities and mechanical systems, a new kitchen and an interior layout that better suits a family restaurant like Tony’s.
“It will be the same family-style restaurant, same menu – actually we’re taking the same menus we have here, the same china – we’re going to just have a better location to accommodate the customers,” Hernandez said.
He gave an optimistic timeline of 60 days for the new location to be open, though it may end up taking a bit longer than that. He’s building a small addition to the rear of 8900 Ogden Ave. in addition to making over the existing interior space.
Tony’s Family restaurant is the third restaurant Hernandez has owned – he and his wife, Donetta are co-owners. He’s in charge of the kitchen and Donetta is in charge of the front of the house and also handles hiring, payroll and scheduling.
They moved to Brookfield – they live just a couple of blocks away from their restaurant – for the schools. The kids all went to Lyons Township High School and went on to college, though the draw of the restaurant is a powerful family bond.
Other family members, including his son, Tony Hernandez Jr., and his daughter, Dana Dobbe, a nurse, have worked at the restaurant since they were in their teens. Another son, Jason, isn’t so active at the restaurant these days, but he helped create the Tony’s logo.
Tony Sr. is also a partner in Tony’s Mexican Grill, at 8699 Ogden Ave. in Lyons, along with his nephew, Enrique Cardona. That restaurant also recently expanded into an adjacent storefront.
The new Tony’s location will also be a milestone in that it will be the first time the Hernandezes have owned the property. They’ve leased their current Ogden Avenue space since the restaurant opened.
In June, Nietos LLC, whose manager is Hernandez Sr., bought 8900 Ogden Ave. and the parking lots behind it for $500,000. The property had sat vacant for more than two years since Brookfield Restaurant closed in January 2016.
The location gives the restaurant more visibility – the cow won’t hurt on that score – and, critically, much more parking.
“We just want to bring that corner back to life,” said Tony Jr.
Tony Sr. has worked in restaurants since he was 14. His family sent him to the United States from Mexico to be educated, and he got a job as a busboy in a restaurant where his brother worked as a cook.
He opened his first Mexican restaurant – called Tony’s – in Des Plaines and later sold his interest to his partner before opening a pancake house with a Greek partner in Naperville. He sold his interest in that restaurant before coming to Brookfield.
Working for Greek owners, he learned to speak that language and learned how to make the classic American pancake house fare that is the bedrock of the Tony’s menu.
“I grew up with the Greeks,” Tony Sr. said. “They are very good cooks, very good business people, so I copycat those things.”