“I hate to see this go”
Patrons mourn Bakers Square in La Grange
By Steve Metsch
Eddie Mele stood for a moment outside the front door of Bakers Square in La Grange, turned and slowly walked back to his vehicle in stunned silence.
“Holy mackerel,” Mele, of Orland Park, said. “I hate to see this go. It’s a great place.”
He was not alone in his surprise when a steady stream of hungry patrols arrived on Feb. 25 at Bakers Square, 942 S. La Grange Road, only to learn it had been shut down.
“It’s a great location. Good for business. Every time I drove by there was somebody in here,” Mele said.
Eddie Mele was stunned to learn Bakers Square in La Grange had been closed down. He was not alone. Photo by Steve Metsch.
Bakers Square was first called Poppin’ Fresh Pie when the land was rezoned commercial 44 years ago, according to the La Grange Area Historical Society.
Patrons found a letter taped to the front glass door that said the restaurant closed Feb. 23.
“What a shame to lose this,” said Mele, who drove there to buy a pie to share with coworkers at Brook Park Elementary School in La Grange Park where he is a maintenance man.
“I love the banana cream pie, absolutely,” Mele said. “Now I’m going back with nothing.”
The letter read: “After very careful consideration, we have made the tough but necessary decision to discontinue operations at the La Grange location.”
The decision was “driven by many business factors,” the letter read. Employees would be relocated to another location or given a severance package, the letter indicated.
One of those employees, a waiter named Tomas, will be sorely missed, said Sandy Baumruck, of North Riverside.
“Tomas, he was our favorite. He knew our order even before we walked in,” Baumruck said. “It just up and closed?”
She brought her mother, Shirley Phillips, there for soup, sandwiches and pie of course. Phillips especially liked the peach pie while Baumruck favored French apple.
Another woman who declined to give her name grimaced when told the news: “Then I don’t get no pie. I’ll have to move on. I’ll go to Jewel.”
Maria Herrera drove from Cicero for lunch on Feb. 25, only to learn the restaurant had been closed down. Photo by Steve Metsch.
Maria Herrera, of Cicero, said her family enjoyed Sunday dinners there. “I like the food, the salads, everything,” she said.
“Wow, wow,” Herrera said shaking her head after reading the letter.
A woman on the La Grange, IL, page on Facebook said her daughter worked there and was told Monday in a phone call the restaurant would close down.
In January, American Blue Ribbon Holdings, which owns the Bakers Square and Village Inn restaurant chains, closed Bakers Square locations in Libertyville, Lansing, Alsip, Orland Park and Merrillville. La Grange seemed safe.
The company is seeking bankruptcy protection, other newspapers have reported. Those closings were part of 33 locations that were shuttered in January.
Former Lyons resident Darlene Lydia wrote on Facebook that Bakers Square “had the best banana cream pie anywhere!”
Katie Swanson Herndon, of La Grange, fondly recalls when her future husband, Dave Herndon, and she would take his grandmother, Emelyn Hatch, there for lunch.
Bill Wettstein, a parishioner of St. Cletus Roman Catholic Church in La Grange, recalled “numerous gatherings with St. Cletus choir members there. Breakfasts following Sunday mass and a break stop for pie and coffee between choir rehearsals and returning home.”
“Tomas is the name of the waiter who patiently served us most of the time. The manager, Victoria, (reportedly) delivered numerous free pies to the St. Cletus Food Pantry at the time of (near) closing. A memorable meeting-with-friends place that will be missed,” Wettstein added.
If you find yourself needing banana cream or another pie, nine Bakers Square restaurants remain in the area. Nearby are Melrose Park, Orland Park and Woodridge. Visit www.bakerssquare.com for addresses.
Asked what will happen to the La Grange site, company spokesman Rob Hoskins replied “I don’t have any details beyond what’s in the statement.”
Baumruck said she hopes to see “another good sit-down family restaurant” move into the building.
Charity Jones, community development director for La Grange, said the village was “aware there were issues corporately.”
“As far as what’s next, we are in contact with our contacts at Bakers Square and we look forward to working with Bakers Square to facilitate redevelopment of the property. La Grange Road is a sought-after location for businesses. We had about 50 new businesses open last year.
She called the one-acre Bakers Square location “a rare opportunity in La Grange.”
“It has excellent access and visibility on La Grange Road, so we think it represents a great redevelopment opportunity for another restaurant or a commercial business to come in,” Jones said.
She said “anything is possible,” adding it is zoned for commercial use.
The site was zoned commercial in May 1976 for Poppin’ Fresh Pie, said Sarah Parkes, executive director of the La Grange Area Historical Society. It was rebranded as Bakers Square in 1985 when the chain was purchased by the Village Inn chain, Parkes wrote in an e-mail.