It’s a love story that resulted in a restaurant.
Eight years ago, Tony Iseinoski, who spoke hardly a word of English, went along with a friend to a Collinsville country-and-western dance club. There, he met his future bride.
“His English was really, really bad,” Tammi Iseinoski recalled with a smile.
The friend had to act as translator. Language barrier aside, something clicked.
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“He got my number,” she said.
“I came to help my cousin open a restaurant,” he said of coming from Macedonia to the United States. “My family has always been in the food business.”
He decided to stay.
Fast forward to 2014 and Alhambra, population 650. Polly’s Restaurant sits squarely on Main Street. The vinyl-sided building has customers coming and going all day. Married seven years in April, Tony, 39, and Tammi, 47, live in Belthalto. The eatery is called Polly’s after her childhood nickname.
“As a kid, I talked like a parrot, so that’s how I got the name,” Tammi said. A plush one hangs from the ceiling on a perch.
Tony had been working for his family and Tammi got laid off from her administrative assistant/customer service representative job at Olin Corp. when talk started about owning their own business.
“We decided we were going to open a restaurant,” said Tammi. They tried their luck first in Carlinville, but “that wasn’t working,” so they shut it down after three months, decided to cut their losses and look elsewhere.
“Tony’s brother Jimmy scouted and found this place. He owns the Chuck Wagon in Vandalia and he knew what to look for,” Tammi said. “We wanted a diner or a cafe. Something homestyle, a place where people could come in their work clothes, where the prices were right so families could eat here and not spend a lot.”
They opened Polly’s on July 7. The couple spent $30,000 and did four months of renovating and painting the former pizza place, adding a new kitchen. Customers sit among cheery yellow walls, white wainscoting and wallpaper trim sporting a 1950s diner motif. There’s seating for 40, plus another 20 can fit in the party room.
The menu is Tony’s, from Greek and Italian to classic American. Everything is homemade. Breakfast is served all day, with nine omelet choices priced no higher than $6.25, including toast and American fries. Plus, there are skillets, pancakes, french toast, waffles, steak and eggs, and biscuits and gravy.
For a small restaurant, it has a big menu for lunch and dinner, too. Seven senior menu items are no more than $6.99. Liver and onions, for example, with choice of potatoes and vegetables, is $6.59. A gyro on pita bread is $5.99. For all sandwiches, from burgers and melts to horseshoes, add $1 for fries or soup.
Every day, there are lunch specials, which they photograph and put on Facebook. It could be a Mushroom Swiss Burger with fries and soup for $6.50, or a hot meatloaf plate with potatoes, gravy and soup for $8.25. A bowl of cream of potato or stuffed pepper soup — a Tony specialty — is $2.50.
Greg Holman, of Alhambra, sat down with a co-workers for lunch on a recent weekday.
“We come in most every day,” he said. The owner of Holman Tree Service in town, he was quick to mention favorites.
“His soups are the best,” Greg said, adding that he’s usually there for dinner because his wife works late. “He makes this stuff. I don’t even know the name of it. It’s pasta with sauce. It’s really good.”
Tony laughed and he and Tammi rattled off the names of a couple pasta dishes, including Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo ($7.50).
It’s 18-hour days for Tony, but he keeps grinning. They hope some day to buy the building and move to Alhambra.
“The people here have been wonderful. Been so good to us. It makes us happy.”