Family members and friends of Kenny Fischer, whose namesake Fischer’s Restaurant has been a Belleville institution for decades, say the popular restaurateur lived “a hell of a life.”
Fischer died Monday evening at the age of 84.
“He was a great guy,” Annette Allan, one of Fischer’s daughters, said Wednesday at the restaurant at 2100 W. Main St. “We’ve received many a call, many a text.”
He was definitely one of a kind. Generous, very kindhearted
Kathy Bingheim, daughter of Kenny Fischer
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“He was definitely one of a kind,” another daughter, Kathy Bingheim, said. “Generous, very kindhearted.”
Fischer family generosity has deep roots. Walt Hubert, who was friends with Fischer for 60 years, said Wednesday he remembers Ardell Fischer — Kenny’s dad — would load up a truck with coffee and doughnuts and follow fire trucks to a fire. He did it “to keep (the firefighters) comfortable,” Hubert said. It was a tradition that persisted for years. Allan said she’d even been on a few of those runs herself.
Allan and Bingheim also described their father as perpetually busy. Other pursuits included owning condos, a travel agency, race horses and airplanes.
After a stint with the Marine Corps, Fischer used GI Bill money to get his pilot’s license. It was worth it. When then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan came to the St. Louis area to campaign in the future president’s failed 1976 presidential bid, Fischer was their pilot. He also regularly ferried U.S. Sen. Alan J. Dixon.
“He was a very good pilot. His comment to me was, ‘Believe me, Kathy. You need to trust me because I don’t value anyone’s life more than my own,’” Bingheim joked.
You couldn’t ask for a better dad
Annette Allan, daughter of Kenny Fischer
Fischer also was curious and ready to help others in a pinch.
“Wherever he went, he wanted to go into their kitchen,” Bingheim said. “Most people would just let him in there.”
Any time Fischer was visiting with friends and customers in his restaurant, he’d excuse himself if his staff was swamped. You could find him in the kitchen cooking. Same went for anytime that happened when he and a large group were out somewhere else. Fischer was eager to pitch in to help people he’d never met.
He was even known to bail employees out of jail if they’d gotten into trouble. He did it because he needed them at the restaurant.
1935 A.C. Fischer opens Okaw Dairy Shop at 322 W. Main St.
1947 Restaurant, then known as The Dutch Girl, relocates to 2100 W. Main St.
1959 Renovations bring Fischer’s Restaurant to the way it looks now
“We’ve been to jail a few times,” Allan said.
Allan said she’ll always remember “how caring and loving (Fischer) always was. He was always there for us no matter what.”
“A big heart,” Hubert said. “More people in Belleville worked for him — it’d be more like count those who didn’t work (for Fischer). If anybody needed a job, they’d go to Fischer’s.”
Being the town’s most popular restaurateur meant Fischer knew a lot of people. For instance, Bingheim expected 100 to 150 people to attend her wedding reception at the restaurant. But almost 700 people showed up.
“If you had Kenny come to your party, stand by,” Hubert said. “It could be anybody that he saw that week” with him.
Bingheim and Allan now run the restaurant along with Corea Buck and Naz Nabulsi. The sisters said they’ll be honoring their father by remaining committed to the restaurant he was so passionate about.
He and I would sit around and talk, tell stories. We agreed on one thing. We led one hell of a life. We didn’t miss anything. Didn’t miss a thing
Walt Hubert, lifelong friend of Kenny Fischer
“We have had such a great life because of him. We are so fortunate,” Bingheim said. “We’re going to try to live up to everything that he expects of us.”
“You couldn’t ask for a better dad,” Allan said.
“He and I would sit around and talk, tell stories,” Hubert said. “We agreed on one thing. We led one hell of a life. We didn’t miss anything. Didn’t miss a thing.”
Fischer’s wake is set for Sunday at Valhalla Funeral Home in Belleville from 3-8 p.m. A funeral service at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Fairview Heights will begin at 11 a.m. Monday.