Pat’s Place says farewell after 52 years in Skokie
Longtime Pat's Place patrons Joe Dubow (left) and Larry Chambers of Skokie have been eating at the popular downtown Skokie diner for years. But this was one of their final times as Pat's Place is closing May 26. | Tamara Bell~Sun Times Media
LOCATION: 5025 Oakton St.
LONGEVITY: 52 years
CLOSING: May 26
FOOD: Burgers, breakfast and brunch
CONTACT: (847) 679-9466
Updated: June 29, 2012 9:32AM
It could be any weekday at Pat’s Place, a fixture in downtown Skokie for more than a half century.
“Are you making minestrone tomorrow?’’ the man at the counter asks.
“Probably will,” says Pat Bellos. “You have to work tomorrow, huh?”
Minutes later, a man sitting alone in a cozy booth tells Pat that his wife is on the way and orders for her.
“No lettuce, right?” Bellos asks.
Right. When it comes to Pat’s Place customers, Bellos is almost always right. These aren’t just customers; they are friends who receive personal attention that has come from the informal building of a longtime relationship.
But much to the disappointment of her customers/friends — some of whom have been enjoying mouth-watering omelets and such for decades at Pat’s Place — the cherished diner will close its doors for the last time May 26.
“Nothing lasts forever,” Bellos, 54, says. “Times change.”
Bellos wasn’t ready for times to change and says she will try to reopen in Skokie. A dispute with the landlord though finally took its toll.
“You can’t keep spending your own money when (the property) doesn’t belong to you,” she says.
Downtown Skokie has been booming with new eateries of late, but something won’t feel quite right when the granddaddy of them all is gone.
“It makes me sad,” says Bill Wengerski, a Skokie public works employee who has been dining on Pat’s Place cuisine since the ‘60s. He munches down his breakfast before rushing to a work shift.
“You come to a place. You get used to it. The People are great. Everyone knows your name when you walk in. There’s not many places like it left,” he says.
Pharmacist Phil Gordon has been coming to Pat’s Place for nearly 15 years. Sitting in a booth, he gobbles up an omelet and reflects that this will be one of his last visits here.
“I just think of the older people who come here and have been coming here for years,” Gordon says. “Where will they go? You won’t find prices or values like this.”
An omelet for under $3? Pork chops or steak for $7? A grilled cheese sandwich for $2.50?
“We have many middle class people, a lot of older people,” Bellos says. “I always try to work around the prices. People don’t have a lot of money.”
Bellos’ parents bought the diner, then named Pandee’s, 52 years ago and changed the name to Paninn.
“My parents never thought it would be here for this long,” the second-generation owner says.
Growing up in Skokie, Bellos and other family members helped out at the eatery when they could. When her parents became ill years later, she and her brother took over operations.
Bellos changed the diner’s name to No Name, but the landlord didn’t like it and eventually it became Pat’s Place. Bellos has been owner now for 35 years, much of that time with her brother who died three years ago.
As fewer family members are around to help out, the diner’s hours have shifted. It was once open for dinner and beyond, but now Pat’s Place serves breakfast and lunch only.
But Bellos still has family members who help out — her sister drives her to work, and sister and brother lend a hand on weekends. And she makes other employees feel like “family,” too.
“It’s been a very good job and I have an excellent boss,” says Sally Amato, a Pat’s Place waitress for six years. “I’ve been sick many times and I’ve had to take off and she’s never said one word. She always makes sure I’m being taken care of in every way. She’s not a boss. She’s a very good friend.”
Bellos refills a cup of coffee and tells the customer to say hello to another customer behind him, a friend he didn’t see. She even knows some of her customers’ health issues and what they should and shouldn’t be eating.
“She knows everybody,” Gordon says. “I don’t know one customer who comes in here who she doesn’t know.”
Finishing her meal, Shirley Sweig, 90, says someone needs to step in to save the restaurant.
“It’s a fixture, a landmark. There has to be something we can do,” she says. “I don’t know how they can let that happen.”
But come May 26, it will happen — Pat’s Place will close.
The best that customers can hope for is a reopening somewhere in Skokie so the past can carry on. Bellos hopes for that, too.
“I have another five years in me, I think,” she says, carrying a steaming plate of breakfast food to an old-time customer. “Sally says I have another 10 years in me. Well, maybe she’s right. I still love what I do.”