Fischer’s Restaurant, a longtime staple of West Main Street, welcomed a busy crowd Wednesday afternoon as it prepared to close its doors.
Diners, owners and employees alike expressed their thoughts on the restaurant’s closing, which was announced in early January.
The restaurant at 2100 W. Main St. has been family owned for more than 80 years. Kenny Fischer, the longtime Belleville restaurateur and civic leader who died Jan. 18, 2016, at age 84, owned and operated the restaurant for many years.
His daughters, Annette Allan and Kathy Bingheim, eventually took over ownership and began operating the establishment with the help of general manager Corea Buck.
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On Wednesday, the women lamented the closing of a life’s labor.
“I’m feeling kind of numb,” Allan said. “We’ve been busier than we ever have before (since announcing the closing), but now it’s finally sinking in.”
By 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, customers had filled the restaurant’s dining room and bar. The kitchen was busy filling the final orders of loyal customers.
“I love Fischer’s; we hate to see them go,” said Marcia Sanson, a longtime patron, who ordered a Reuben on the last day of service. “We used to come here when we were in high school and sit in a corner booth.”
The 83-year-old reminisced about ordering french fries at the restaurant when it was still known as “The Dutch Girl.”
Memories of the old restaurant were exchanged while customers enjoyed Fischer’s fried chicken, a favorite among locals.
Chuck Kezirian ordered the famous staple one last time Wednesday before saying goodbye to the restaurant.
“I’m sad that Belleville history is going away,” Kezirian said. “Hopefully someone takes it over.”
Sisters — Allan and Bingheim — started working at the restaurant as coat and hat-check girls on the weekends. They eventually worked their way up to being waitresses and finally into ownership and management.
“We spent all our lives here,” Bingheim said. “At first (closing day) seemed so far away, but now it’s finally here.”
There’s still plenty of work to do at the 30,000-square-foot restaurant and banquet center. Some of the business’ 60 employees have agreed to stay on to help clean and get ready for the auction on March 2, Bingheim said.
At least one employee knows what she’s going to do after the restaurant closes. Carmen Duco has been a bartender at the restaurant for 30 years. Before that, she spent 10 years as a waitress and two years as a coat check girl, starting when she was 15 years old.
When asked what she’s going to do after her longtime employer closes, she said, “Rest. Take some time off and rest.”
Fischer’s oldest grandchild, Bryan Bingheim, stood in the kitchen Wednesday afternoon and said he is planning to take some time off as well.
“I mean, it’s sad, but I see it as an opportunity for my family to grow,” he said. “This place is a big undertaking; it’s hard and it can be hard on a family.”
Sue Ketterer, a Fischer’s waitress for 24 years, said her experience working for the Fischers has been nothing but great.
“There are a lot of emotions today,” she said. “A lot of these customers are like family to me. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people — I will keep in touch with them.”
Ketterer said she plans on retiring and spending more time with her family — including her two young children. But, she added, there’s a possibility of her returning to work if someone buys the building and opens a new restaurant.
“I love serving — that’s why I’ve done it so long,” Ketterer said. “The Fischers have been so good to me. They would help anyone out; that’s why I’ve stayed around so long.”
Fischer’s kitchen supervisor, Wyvette Jones, said she’s worked for the family for 26 years. With tears in her eyes, she hugged Ketterer and talked about how much the restaurant means to her.
“I’m emotional right now; I’ve been here all my life,” Jones said. “Now I have to start all over.”
Jones said she plans to take about a month off before getting back to work — the Cahokia resident already has a few interviews lined up.
“The people here, they are my family; we are just one big happy family. We don’t hold grudges against each other.”