Brookfield's Cock Robin store at 8861 Burlington Ave. has a new owner, but that doesn't mean the return of Steakburgers or One-in-a-Millions, although its new owner had hoped to do so. Instead, the building is slated for demolition and the land will be used as parking for adjacent businesses.
Since March 2007, hungry fans of Brookfield's Cock Robin have walked up to the doors and windows and looked in, hoping and wondering when it would reopen for business.
Everything was still in place: the signs with their prices, the shake/malt Multimixer in back, the soda dispensers, the box of ice cream cones, the freezers. It looked like someone could go in at any minute, switch on the lights, and the Cock Robin would fly again.
The sign on the east door said the business and building was for sale, along with the phone number of its owner, Louis Gartner. It gave hope. Surely someone would come forth and grill the Steakburgers, mix the malts and fry up the fries. And we'd get a "square" deal on our ice cream cones, too.
Some people did, indeed, want to buy the business. However, Gartner was impossible to reach by phone. People wanting to know the price left several messages and never got a single call back. Then the U.S. economy soured, and money dried up like old ice cream with freezer burn.
The years passed, and the building stayed vacant. People, peering through the increasingly dirty windows, noticed the chairs, tables, and other relics of the Robin slowly disappearing. Gone were the Multimixer, gone were the soda dispensers, gone were the ice cream cones, gone was even the gallon can of Bonnie Maid chocolate syrup left on the floor.
It didn't look good for the rebirth of the Robin.
Finally, a real estate agent acting on behalf of Gartner contacted Brookfield business owner Martin Lynch, since he was buying up buildings adjoining his thriving business, the Irish Times Pub and Restaurant, located just a couple of doors west at 8869 Burlington Ave.
Lynch was interested.
"I wanted to reopen the Cock Robin," Lynch said. "I genuinely thought it could be fixed up. But the Brookfield Building Department said, 'No way' - that the building would need a new heating and air-conditioning system and new wiring - a huge project. The basement needed a lot of work, too, and so did the roof."
In spite of this, Lynch still wanted the property. The original price wanted by Gartner in 2007 was $395,000. But after time, the economy and the negative engineering reports came in, a price of $275,000 was agreed to, being paid on an installment plan drawn up between the two parties. The realty company acted as a go-between.
"I never even laid eyes on Gartner," said Lynch.
The initial installment was paid for at the signing of the agreement dated June 10, 2011.
Lynch made the decision to demolish the building, regretting it had to be done.
"The Irish Times has been here 20 years this November, and sometimes over those years, I'd go to Cock Robin for Steakburgers," said Lynch. "They were delicious."
Lynch saved the interior signage and plans to keep the large Cock Robin sign in its accustomed place, on top of the pole out front of his new parking area. In time, he has indicated that he'll display some of the smaller signs in the Irish Times.
With the demolition imminent, Cock Robin fans of all ages are mourning the loss of their favorite local fast food hangout.
"People have asked to buy pieces of the stonework on the front and side [as souvenirs]," Lynch said.
Ted Fredenhagen, son of the founder of the Cock Robin franchise, was equally dejected. When told the details, he sighed.
"Oh, no ... that's too bad, since the Brookfield store was the last one remaining," Fredenhagen said. "The same thing, with the sign left out front, happened at the River Road and Grand store, in River Grove. Only the sign remains today."
The Brookfield Cock Robin opened in the first week of June 1932 and provided memorable service to its many thousands of grateful customers through the end of 2006.
Though no one knew it five years ago, that was the end of the Steakburgers, the One-in-a-Million malts, the Silver Star Sodas, the Top Hat sundaes, the cones with the square ice cream dips on top and all the rest.
Now the building will be gone, too, but for many, the Cock Robin experience won't be forgotten for a long, long time.