GEL PEOPLE: Part 1 of 2 - New Owners of Glen Oak Restaurant Renew Original Spirit of Glen Ellyn Restaurant

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by Ginger Wheeler

California transplant and Wheaton native Pam Duffy, and her photographer husband Ken Little, decided to venture into the restaurant business. They began searching for a business location and theme that seemed right to them.

What they found brought them back to Pam's roots and her early childhood memories of sitting in the brightly lit windows of Glen Ellyn's Glen Oak Restaurant with her grandma, waiting for her uncle to walk by on his daily commute to the city.

Those early memories spawned an interest to buy the Glen Oak restaurant.

The building that houses Glen Oak Restaurant was designed by an architect for the restaurant’s founder Pete Letsos in 1977. The Glen Oak has become a Glen Ellyn icon. Pete's son Tom took over Glen Oak after his father's passing. In February of 2008, he agreed to sell the business to Duffy and Little, along with other local family members including Duffy's brother Brian and Duffy’s parents Brian Sr. and Ellen (ne Smith), both Glenbard West Graduates.

As business operations transitioned to the Duffy Family, with brother Brian at the helm running the day-to-day operations, the new owners worked hard to continue to welcome long-time customers and assure them that their beloved restaurant would only change for the better, losing nothing of its iconic status.

“We have so many fantastic customers that have been coming to Glen Oak for over 20 years," said Brian Duffy. "I wanted to make sure that when my family took over, those customers felt just as comfortable at Glen Oak as they had before.” As a result, it wasn't until October of 2009 that the new owners made their mark: And it was subtle.

"We brought in our dear friend, (California interior designer) Kevin Haley to look at the building, and he said it was remarkable," remembers Pam, "He said the building was a gem with great lines." Haley is a well-known interior designer to stars like Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio, among others.

The architect who designed the building paid homage to Frank Lloyd Wright, said Duffy. The nod to Wright is obvious: the natural light, the frequent wood, the prairie lines. And after a light renovation, with Haley's help, that Sundance rusticity/Frank Lloyd Wright prairie naturalness really comes alive, warm and inviting.

The Duffy family, with Haley's guidance, chose sea foam greens and rustic reds for the walls and fabrics. Every inch of wood was stripped and either retoned (darker, more richly), or repainted. 80's era valences and decorations were removed and natural light was allowed to flood in, unencumbered. New bathrooms were installed and energy efficient appliances employed to save on energy costs.

Outside, a new sign was designed by Pam's California-based marketing design firm. The building was repainted and a new energy- saving elastomeric coating was applied to the roof. New landscaping was planted that thrives in Illinois' harsh prairie weather and a zen-like boulder provides good feng shui for customers and employees at the entrance. All this was completed in five days

Like the decor, the menu has also changed, albeit subtly: enough so that long-time customers who for thirty years have called Glen Oak "their kitchen" keep coming, and new patrons trickling in find a warm, cozy place to try something healthy and tasty, trendy even.

"We have fantastic salads and sandwiches and homemade soups," said Pam, "And our signature martini, the 479 (a nod to the address and possibly the ingredients) are simply the best I've ever had," she said.

Indeed executive chef, Pete Loehrke, (with an extensive background that includes Lettuce Entertain You's Avanzare, as well as the Cheesecake Factory and The Clubhouse in Oak Brook), has taken great pains to learn the old favorites, such as the Athenian Skirt Steak and Glen Oak's famous Broiled Pork Chops, at the same time bringing in some new taste tempters such as the mile-high Hilltopper burger.

Stay tuned, we'll present Part 2 of the story which describes the Glen Oak Restaurant food and drink menu! And interviews with the chef! Stay tuned!

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