Great Escape Restaurant Celebrates 20 Years

| September 2, 2012

Come Celebrate With The Great Escape!

Although ghosts have purportedly been spotted roaming the basement of the Great Escape Restaurant, I didn’t witness any spirits while I was interviewing owner Brian Great. The only “spirit” I encountered was his and his staff’s enthusiasm and dedication to the business.

The Great Escape Restaurant in Schiller Park is celebrating 20 years serving the public.  They will be commemorating the event on September 17-23 with rollback 1992 prices all week with broasted chicken dinners at $6.95 and BBQ ribs at $12.95 for a full slab and $8.95 for a half slab. Yum! If you’ve never tried either one, this is the time to indulge!  Brian said they would also have a few drink specials. Also on September 20th, Vito Zatto will be featured with his Vegas like comedic show and on Friday the 21st, there’ll be a live performance by the Shannon Rovers; Events not to be missed.

For their 10th anniversary, Brian said they had fireworks, but when deciding what to do for their 20th, he said, “Fireworks were fun, but instead of blowing it off in the sky, we wanted to give it back to the customers.”

There’s a lot of history behind the Great Escape building, but I wanted to find out how and why Brian came to own the restaurant and his reasons for getting into it.  His father had a place in the city called the Drift Inn, so he grew up around the restaurant business. (You can see some memorabilia hanging up around the restaurant from the Drift Inn.)  Brian went to school for restaurant management and worked for Bob Evans and Doc Weeds so he could get something on his resume. In 1992, he purchased what is now the Great Escape when he was 25 years old. “It was a very uphill battle. I didn’t sleep for six months.” Brian explained. “I don’t go to the casino, because I gamble every time I unlock the front door.”

“Never dwell on yesterday, always look to tomorrow.” Brian Great

As with any new business, “we came in on a shoestring” and funds were low so they couldn’t do many renovations in the beginning. Brian said, “We try to make subtle changes and improvements a little at a time. We’re changing the globes on the light fixtures right now.” I mentioned to him how “curb appeal” is important to most customers when deciding to eat at a restaurant. It reminded Brian about the sprinkler system they recently had installed to keep the garden area nice. “We’re always trying to improve.”

“Big Windy”

Of course by far the biggest project Brian and the Great Escape took on was the wind turbine or “Big Windy.” Brian told me it was an “exciting project” over five years and he wanted to show that “everybody can do something.” Although a major expense in the beginning, the benefits are definitely paying off for his restaurant. “When we had the power outages last month, we were still up and running.” “When we told customers we were running off our generators, they couldn’t believe it. That was our goal to be seamless. You couldn’t even tell we were running on generators.” Big Windy is even a landmark for the airport. “If we ever decide to take it down, we would have to inform the FAA.”

If you visit the Great Escape’s website, you’ll find a complete history of the facility. The original structure was built in 1889 and the bar was hand carved by the Chicago Bar Company. History has it that Al Capone sold booze there and “was spotted at the bar doing business with local gangsters.” Hung up in the restaurant are old pictures showing the original look of the business which was Fred Kolze’s General Store from 1889-1918, Papa Chris’ Saloon from 1918-1988 and Summerfield’s Restaurant from 1988-1992.

Brian told me that his “biggest challenge” is staff, but that Paco is the original chef from Summerfield’s and is still with him today along with servers Joe and Monica. His brother Ron also owns a small percentage of the business. Brian explained that he likes to maintain the historical feel of the restaurant and keep the time-honored recipes the restaurant is famous for. They use his grandfather’s recipe for

Owner Brian Great stands in front of the entrance to the Great Escape celebrating 20 years in business.

barbecue sauce that they started bottling a few years ago. “Getting the recipe right on a large-scale was a challenge, but we did it.” As I stated before, if you haven’t tried their ribs, here’s the perfect opportunity.

Brian obviously loves what he does and takes a lot of pride in the Great Escape. “You don’t just walk in on this business as a hobby. If you don’t love it you can’t do it. It’s all consuming.” When asked if any celebrities have visited his restaurant he said, “Everyone who walks in is a celebrity. We try not to treat anyone different from anyone else.”

Also on their website you’ll read about their “Hauntings” which several paranormal investigators have done shows on and video. As it states, “One never knows what lurks around a corner!” But that’s another story all together.

Take time to come and celebrate with the Great Escape for their 20th anniversary. When visiting, you won’t be scared off and find that you’ll be welcomed by Brian and his staff and the spirit of a family owned business.

The Great Escape is located at 9540 Irving Park Road in Schiller Park. Call 847-671-7171 for further information on their 20th Anniversary or for catering or reservations.

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Category: Featured Businesses

About the Author ()

Barbara is the publisher of People and Places Newspaper which she started in August of 2011. A lifelong resident of Schiller Park, she always felt it important that residents needed to be kept informed about their communities. Since newspaper coverage for Schiller Park stopped about twenty years ago, she made it a goal to bring a newspaper back to the area. She tries to include all of Leyden Township in her reporting and wants to keep true with the mission of the paper to "inform, educate and entertain."

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