"We are of two different kinds," the older waiter said. He was now dressed to go home. "It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the cafe..."...You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe." (A Clean Well-Lighted Place/Ernest Hemingway)
Cathy Roquemore, aged 74, has owned and operated the Ohio House Coffee Shop at 600 N. LaSalle for 53 years. It is a small pleasant diner with copious light coming in from the windows. It has been home to almost three generations of customers. To say the business is successful is an understatement. Sunday, April 28, will be the last day Ms. Roquemore, her staff, and legions of customers will call the Ohio Coffee House home. There was a tinge of sadness in her voice when asked about the closing.
The diner is part of the Ohio House Motel. The owners of the motel did not renew the lease for the coffee shop. They want to replace it with a corporate franchise. The kind of establishment that offers what Anthony Bourdain calls "mung".
The area is inundated with franchise and corporate operations, including the Rock and Roll McDonalds across the street. It is a pity this pleasant small place, serving good food at reasonable prices must die. Chicago is becoming suburbanized. It is our loss. The mall culture is taking over. Mom and pop type operations are going the way of the corner tavern.
When I stopped in the Ohio Coffee Shop this afternoon it was packed. There was not a seat available. People were coming in and waiting patiently to have lunch.
The staff was busy cooking, serving, and taking orders. Cathy Roquemore was serving, cleaning up, and washing dishes. Burgers and bacon sizzled on the griddle.
Happy customers were enjoying their late breakfasts and early lunch. There was the typical banter of regular diners, people who knew each other, Cathy Roquemore, and her staff.
It is a shame and a pity that well established institutions must go the way of corporate owned or franchise operations. It is sad that good food must be replaced with the bland mundane assembly line "mung".
Chicago still has some great institutional eating and drinking establishments left, though they are going by the wayside as owners die, property owners sell, the wrecking ball comes in, or lessors want more so-called upscale tenants. If the trend continues, Chicago will be nothing more than a city of bland suburban mall style culture. A city of no culture.
That will be to our detriment and bring on the death knell of a grand city.
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