EIU Memories: Chubby’s Pizza

As a student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois, there was only one place to go after coming home from the bar at 2 am. You wanted something cheap and greasy, and Chubby’s had just what the doctor ordered. Though I wasn’t much for the bar scene, I ate my fair share of Chubby’s over the years. It was the largest pizza in Charleston for the best price, and just a short walk from campus.

Leon and Lisa Hall opened a Topper’s Pizza in the Midtown Plaza strip mall at 215 Lincoln Avenue in 1995. Topper’s is a restaurant chain founded by Scott Gittrich in Champaign, Illinois in 1991, but Leon and Lisa found themselves alone after the original location closed. After three years, the couple felt they weren’t benefiting from the franchise, so they decided to go their own way and rebranded as Chubby’s Pizza.

They kept the same menu but were able to lower prices because they were no longer paying franchise fees. “The Topper”, a 20-inch pizza with 12 toppings, became “The Big Chubby.” Why the name Chubby’s? Leon told the Daily Eastern News, “I’ve put on a few pounds since I’ve owned the place.”

Ad for Topper’s in the Daily Eastern News, c. 1998. Topper’s became Chubby’s that year.
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Capri Italian Restaurant

Capri Italian Restaurant
Sign for Capri Italian Restaurant, 313 E. State Street, in downtown Rockford, Illinois. This white stucco building has a long family tradition imported from southern Italy. Vito Michele Grisanzio and his brother, Domenic, bought The Capri Restaurant in 1963 and Vito has worked there ever since. He’s now joined by his wife and their three grown sons. Don’t let this beat up old sign fool you – the food is great and the dining room is lovingly maintained.

The Original Burger King in Mattoon, Illinois

Coles County, Illinois is an unusual place. I should know, I wrote an entire book about it. Students at nearby Eastern Illinois University often wonder why there is no Burger King, the ubiquitous fast food franchise, anywhere in the county. That’s because a court decision in 1968 banned the fast food franchise from a 20-mile radius around a locally-owned Burger King in the town of Mattoon. Confused?

Ice cream is served with personality at this Burger King

In 1957, local business owners Gene and Betty Hoots opened a burger joint in a two car garage called Burger King, to compliment their ice cream stand Frigid Queen. The name was Betty’s idea. She thought it had a nicer ring to it than “Hot King” or “Hot Dames“. They registered “Burger King” as a state trademark. In 1961, a Florida-based corporation called Burger King began opening franchises all over Illinois, and Gene and Betty Hoots sued.

In Burger King of Florida, Inc. v. Hoots (1968), the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that national trademarks had priority over state trademarks, but granted the Hootses a concession: they could keep their business name, and no corporate Burger Kings could open within 20 miles of Mattoon. “One time they offered us $10,000 to put one in, but we told them to get lost,” Betty Hoots told the Illinois Times.

Today, the closest place you can buy a Whopper is in Tuscola, 22-miles north. You can, however, buy a Hooter Burger, lemon ice cream, or a butterscotch shake. In 2015, Gene and Betty Hoots finally sold their restaurant to a partnership called BK Ventures, LLC (I guess their son didn’t want to carry on the family tradition after all). Local businessman Cory Sanders planned to make improvements to the restaurant, but keep the menu mostly the same.

The Original Burger King, at 1508 Charleston Avenue in Mattoon, Illinois, is open all-week long from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm. They don’t have a website, but you can call (217) 234-8122 for more information.