Former Snuffy’s Resurrects as the Steak N Egger on Route 66

Our thanks to Chicago-based journalist, Maria R. Traska for submitting the following article:

By Maria R. Traska

A fixture of Route 66 in suburban Chicago has risen again. The former Snuffy’s 24-Hour Grill on Joliet Road in McCook, IL has been gutted, renovated and revived as the Steak N Egger on Route 66. And not a moment too soon. The Route 66 landmark had been closed since late 2010 and hadn’t been open 24/7 for some time. Despite the efforts of the former operators, the place had aged badly and gotten somewhat grubby. The turnaround began last September 15, when the property was bought by new owners.

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The new place is awash in shiny chrome, steel and tile, bright with light, and full of Route 66 and other road memorabilia – including an old-style gas pump in the corner. It has a 1950s roadhouse-retro vibe, complete with a classic jukebox song selector on the counter, but is thoroughly modern in finishes, furnishings and equipment. The restaurant’s electric sign and royal blue awnings sport not only the company logo but Route 66 signs. Moreover, the company’s owner is a big fan of the Mother Road.

“I’ve always been a Route 66 fan,” said Terry Carr, Sr., whose car has a Route 66 license plate, “and I’ve always been amazed by the exterior, the limestone.” The former Snuffy’s exterior is unique, built in 1929 of randomly-sized polygonal limestone chunks – from a quarry less than a mile away – that fit together like odd-shaped rocks in a stone patio. Unlike the geologically similar, creamy yellow Joliet limestone from further down the road, this McCook limestone has weathered to a nice taupe-buff surface that’s always appealed to Terry Sr. He’d often driven by Snuffy’s, thinking that he’d like to own it some day. So when Terry Jr. told his dad the property was on the market, dad jumped on the opportunity.

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The former Snuffy’s is now part of the local Steak N Egger diner chain, run by Carr Restaurant Group of Cicero, IL, a company that’s been in business on Route 66 since 1955. Carr’s first location was a spot called Al’s Grill on Ogden Avenue at California Avenue in Douglas Park, right across the street from Mt. Sinai Medical Center. It was a 20-seat diner with a steady stream of customers. “One of my dad’s theories was that you’ll always have people going in an out of a hospital,” remarked Terry Sr.

Grandpa Carr seems to have gotten it right, because the chain is thriving, even though the supposed economic recovery hasn’t hit Main Street yet in Illinois. The former Snuffy’s is currently the fifth location for the diner chain and the 20th outlet in the company’s history. For an idea of how many customers the other four diners in the chain had last year, consider this: among them, they used 1.25 million eggs last year – enough to keep 4,500 hens busy laying just for Steak N Egger – plus more than 250,000 steaks and over 200,000 pounds of Idaho russets. Carr Restaurant Group also includes a catering business and the subsidiaries One Stop Wholesale and SNE Construction.

Three generations of Carrs have been involved in the family business. Terry Sr.’s three sons – Terry Jr., Allan and Jeremy – have worked for the company since they were children. Terry Jr. is manager of the Steak N Egger on Route 66 and just moved into the frame shotgun-style house at the rear of the property. The sale was a twofer – both the restaurant property and the former owner’s house were on the market. And half the house had to be replaced due to termite damage. The Carrs figure they spent about $300,000 on renovations to the grill and house, with two-thirds of that spent on the restaurant.

The results, however, are a welcome – and remarkable – change. The house is neat and trim outside, cozy and magazine-picture perfect inside, whereas the restaurant is state-of-the-restaurant-art despite its retro look. The building has a new taupe-painted tower at the back, with a new entrance below and a feature window above where you can see Terry Jr.’s hand-assembled motor trike on display. An Illinois U.S. Route 66 sign greets you on the wall next to the entry. The grill’s interior features tile walls and floors, a granite counter, flat screens, and Route 66 items such as a wall clock. There’s even a Route 66 flag on the pole outside.

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Two things are missing, however: the old Snuffy’s sign, which used to hang from the front of the building, and the plaque that the restaurant received when it was entered into the Route 66 Hall Of Fame. Both were gone before the Carrs took possession of the property last fall. (Hint to the hall of fame: they could use a new plaque.)

Terry Sr. said he’d like to get more involved with Berwyn’s annual Route 66 car show, which occurs every September on Ogden Avenue and attracts sports car, classic car and motorcycle owners. He also knows Jon Fey, director of the Berwyn Route 66 Museum and an organizer of the event, because he, Carr, once owned a lounge across the street called the Berwyn Bar Association (his partner in that venture was an attorney). Terry Sr. admitted that he’d like to own a few 1950s and 1960s classic cars, perhaps to show off at the restaurant now and then – “a 1957 Bel Air or a Cadillac Eldorado Berlitz. Old Corvettes aren’t bad, either.”

Terry Jr. is content with just looking. Asked if he’s going to take the custom trike he built out for a spin, he replied, laughing, “I’m afraid to.” Better it should stay on display while he minds the grill.

Neither has driven the actual route itself, though Terry Sr. admits to having been down its interstate equivalent from Chicago to Santa Monica, CA. Route 66 began in Chicago at Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue, the road’s eastern terminus. The original 1926 path took Jackson to Ogden Avenue and Ogden to suburban Lyons, where it dipped down to Joliet Road and remained there all the way to Joliet before heading downstate to Springfield, St. Louis, and all the other famous stops on the Mother Road. I-55, known locally as the Stevenson Expressway, had replaced most of Route 66 in the Chicago area by the mid-1970s.

Traveling the Mother Road still appeals to many visitors both domestic and international, however, including the Carrs. “We have a great respect for the tradition,” Terry Sr. said. He’s even thinking about adding a guest register at the new restaurant for all the visiting Route 66 fans.

Considering that the family business got its start on Route 66 while it was still an official U.S. highway, it’s a little surprising that the Steak N Egger outlet near Ogden and Central Avenue doesn’t have a Route 66 décor, too. Not really, countered Terry Sr. “In Cicero, they really don’t make a big deal out of it. In McCook, they make a very big deal,” as do the residents of nearby Berwyn. Still, with renewed interest in the Illinois Historic Route 66 Scenic Byway, there’s always that Field Of Dreams maxim: If you build it, they will come. Perhaps it’s time to remind Cicero denizens of something besides Al Capone.

The Steak N Egger on Route 66 held an open house April 12 for neighbors, friends and town officials to get a peek at the renovated eatery. There was a soft opening on April 16, followed by a short start-up period to sort out any problems and get new staff used to the routine. A full-fledged grand opening is expected some time in May, after father and son decide the shakedown run is over.

Steak N Egger on Route 66
8408 Joliet Road
McCook, IL 60525
708-853-9240
Terry Carr, Jr., manager
http://www.steaknegger.com

Maria R. Traska is a Chicago-based journalist and co-author of the upcoming book, The Curious Traveler’s Guide to Route 66 in Metro Chicago, by Maria R. Traska, Joseph D. Kubal and Keith Yearman. Photos Copyright 2012 by M.R. Traska and reprinted with permission of the author.

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