EIU Memories: Jimmy John’s

In 1983, 19-year-old Jimmy John Liautaud opened a sandwich shop in a small college town with a loan from his dad. He’s now worth $1.7 billion. That sandwich shop was Jimmy John’s, now a national sandwich chain, and that college was Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. Jimmy made his business profitable by offering fast delivery to the EIU dorms, and that’s how I encountered the sandwich chain 17 years later.

I first ate Jimmy John’s my freshman year of college, back in the fall of 2000. I didn’t have a car down at school, and when I got tired of dorm food, I would order Jimmy John’s and have it delivered to Carman Hall. A sandwich only cost $3.25, plus tip, and it came in a brown paper bag. Later, they came out with plastic cups with a different design on them every year. I have a collection somewhere.

When I was younger, I loved Subway, but there was something simple about Jimmy John’s sandwiches, and their menu hasn’t changed much over the years. Just pick a number and you’re set. On nice days, I always enjoyed sitting on the picnic bench outside the shop in the alley behind Positively Fourth Street Records.

Jimmy John’s logo from a delivery bag, c. 2001
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Der Rathskeller Neon Sign

Der Rathskeller Neon Sign
Neon sign for Der Rathskeller, 1132 Auburn Street in Rockford, Illinois. Fred Goetz opened Der Rathskeller, Rockford’s only German-American restaurant, in 1931. It offers an outdoor beer garden and romantic, candle-lit basement dining. Yes, it’s also supposed to be haunted. According to Haunted Rockford, Illinois by Kathi Kresol, many employees believe Fred still hangs around, making adjustments to place settings after hours and playing little pranks to make sure they know he’s still around.

EIU Memories: Roc’s Blackfront

It’s fashionable for bars and restaurants to claim some connection to the days of Prohibition, but Roc’s Blackfront Tavern & Grill, at 410 Sixth Street in Charleston, Illinois, is the real deal. It even has the memorabilia to prove it. In my senior and graduate school years at nearby Eastern Illinois University, I frequented Roc’s to have a drink with friends in a classier atmosphere than the usual college bars.

Roc’s ad in the Daily Eastern News, August 18, 2000.

That brick building, absent its black tile facade and martini glass-shaped neon sign, was originally built for the Charleston Courier newspaper office in 1841. Willis W. McClelland opened the Red Front Saloon there in 1917. As fate would have it, the Eighteenth Amendment banning the sale of alcohol in the United States passed in 1919. What were establishments like the Red Front Saloon to do? The saloon changed its name to McClelland’s Cafe and continued to clandestinely sell alcohol a short walk from the county courthouse.

Racing enthusiast Hank O’Day bought the speakeasy in 1931 and renamed it Hank O’Day’s Tavern after Prohibition’s repeal in 1933. Illegal activities continued, however. O’Day ran an underground casino in the room above the bar, complete with buzzer system to alert patrons of police raids. When owner Mike Knoop renovated in 1996, he discovered hidden gambling devices and paraphernalia, including total boards for horse racing and a roulette wheel that now hangs on the wall.

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Sugar Bowl Vintage Sign

Sugar Bowl Vintage Sign
The Sugar Bowl Restaurant, at 1494 Miner Street (U.S. Route 14) in Des Plaines, Illinois, was opened by Mr. and Mrs. Files as a soda fountain and candy store in 1921. They added a glorious neon sign in 1957.

It still retained some of its old features as a candy store when I visited as a kid in the late 1980s (I remember browsing the knickknacks and candy they sold), but owner Ted Vlahopoulos renovated the interior to look more like a traditional restaurant in 1997. Thankfully, Steve Morakalis and George Prassas kept this wonderful sign when they reopened it in 2009.

Milanese Italian Restaurant

Milanese Italian Restaurant
Lovely vintage neon sign for Milanese Italian Restaurant, 115 Main Street in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York, just a few blocks from the Hudson River. Santino and Rita Milanese immigrated to the United States in 1956, and they opened their family restaurant in downtown Poughkeepsie in 1971. Their first customer was a lone truck driver who stopped to ask for directions. Today, Alessandro and Aldo Milanese, their sons, run the business and carry on the family tradition.