By Bob Uphues
It was late February when the owners and employees of Tony's Family Restaurant began hauling equipment, plates and silverware out of their old location at Ogden and Deyo and began the move to 8900 Ogden Ave.
The goal was an early March reopen, but construction delays kept hungry diners waiting a few more weeks. But when the doors opened on April 8, they flocked back and have kept doing so 24 hours a day since.
"We had lines out the door, but we're really excited to be in this new location," said Tony Hernandez Jr. on the afternoon of April 15, handling the front of the house while his father, Tony Sr., hustled with the cooks in the kitchen.
"It was a great spot for us," Tony Jr. said. "We figure Ogden and Prairie is a great corner, and we are hoping to, even in the near future, maybe even expand a little bigger. We're exploring options.
"We want to bring this corner back to life."
The new location is already bigger than the old location by some 70 seats, and the business has hired about a dozen new employees to help handle the traffic. Workers gutted the former Brookfield Restaurant location at Prairie and Ogden, replaced the mechanical systems, fitted out the restaurant with a new kitchen and added all new décor, including furniture, booths and flooring.
"We still wanted that kind of diner feel but a little more modern," Tony Jr. said. "Since it's an older building there were a lot of things we needed to take care of."
One of the things that needed taking care of was ordering and installing a new ventilation unit to comply with current building code. That was partly behind the delay in opening but didn't pose a problem otherwise, Tony Jr. said.
"It was no problem at all, we were just waiting for it," he said. "The village was great and have been helpful the whole step of the way, especially when we were crunched on time. They expedited any type of permits and were really helpful."
Despite the six-week layoff, said Tony Jr., all of the employees from the old location returned, bolstered by the new staff. During that time, Tony Jr. also tried to keep loyal customers informed through the restaurant's Facebook page and, personally, on the phone.
"I kept in touch with the regulars," he said. "They have my personal phone number and a lot would call and ask."
The delay does not appear to have made a dent in business.
"We're still just trying to keep the reputation of having a good home-cooked meal any time of the day," Tony Jr. said.
On April 15, Barb and Rich Del Favero sat at a booth near the entrance, just getting ready to tuck into their salads. Regulars for years, they'd discovered the old location through a friend and kept coming back for comfort food like pot roast and meatloaf along with the senior citizen specials, even though they live in Chicago near Midway Airport.
"The people are real nice," said Barb. "The waitresses are real nice."
And, of course, the old Brookfield Restaurant cow is back atop the roof — in a little bit different spot, but looking good as new after being restored, gratis, by the folks at Douglas Auto Body.