Before you could say “Oh no, Mr. Bill!” momentary panic broke out when the Chicago Tribune announced yesterday that the Berghoff Restaurant and Café, a Chicago landmark, was to be sold – but then relief hit once we realized that it’s staying in the family.
Carlyn Berghoff, great-granddaughter of founder Herman Berghoff and CEO of the company that operates both the restaurant and Berghoff Catering, is retiring at age 55. Although she started out as a caterer, Ms. Berghoff bought the restaurant a few months after her parents had closed it (again, they were retiring) and intended to use it as a space for private events – but former customers kept asking her if the restaurant had reopened. Eventually, bowing to customer demand, she reopened the restaurant/bar and downstairs café in 2006.
Ms. Berghoff’s brother Peter Berghoff, 50, will be the new owner of the 118-year-old enterprise. Mr. Berghoff currently manages the Berghoff Café at O’Hare International Airport. The ownership transition will happen on June 30. The business is being sold for an undisclosed sum. Employees will have to re-interview for their jobs under the new owner, and the company filed a notice with the state indicating that all 156 employees might be laid off. However, the expectation is that most will stay with the company and the changeover will be “seamless.”
“These companies have worked together for a long time; they’re committed to their people,” said Rebecca Andexler, PR rep for the new owner. The only difference customers may notice on June 30, she told the Tribune, is that “Carlyn won’t be in her office.”
Herman Berghoff first opened the business in 1898 as a tavern at the corner of State and Adams, following the great success he and his brothers had with their beer on the Midway during the 1893 Columbian Exposition (as their brewery was located in Indiana then and they weren’t ‘locals,’ the brothers were denied a permit to sell their beer inside the fairgrounds – so they set up their booth immediately outside the gate to the Midway). The Berghoff is famous for having been awarded liquor license no. 1 immediately after Prohibition ended in Chicago – and it has maintained license no. 1 since then for both the restaurant’s liquor license and the bar’s liquor license. During Prohibition, however, the business went dry and sold its now famous root beer and the Bergo line of sodas. Those are now made by another soda company, whereas Berghoff beer is now brewed by the Joseph Huber brewery in Wisconsin.
The Berghoff has been located at the 17 West Adams Street complex since the early 1900s. The restaurant’s neon sign is one of the most recognizeable signs in the city, second only to the Chicago Theater’s trademark marquee on State Street.
And that’s it for our news update. Follow our blog for more Route 66 news in the future! Ciao for now.
Your Route 66 reporter,