The Centerfield Tavern to reopen with new owners
Ron Bartlett always wanted to run a bar.
So he was interested when he heard Schildknecht’s Centerfield tavern at 1403 E. A St. in Belleville was up for sale. And despite not having stepped foot into the joint in a long, long time, he fell in love and Michele Schifferdecker also was interested and offered to go half-and-half with Bartlett on the bar. Thirty years as a dietician had been nice, she said, but doing it every day for three decades got old.
The pair, both Belleville natives, are bringing everyone back who worked at the bar under its previous owner. Jerry Schildknecht ran the joint for decades but died suddenly in March. One of those employees is manager Theresa Schanz of Belleville. She said regulars are antsy for the bar to open.
They’ll get their wish Wednesday.
Q. What got you interested in running a bar?
A. Ron: “I grew up in a neighborhood bar with my dad (R&G’s in Cahokia). A lot of great memories. I’ve always wanted to own one. I kind of gave it up for a lot of years and then my daughter saw (Schildknecht’s Centerfield was for sale). She says ‘let’s go look at it.’ I haven’t been in this place since 1979. And I walked in and just fell in love with it. It just felt like a good neighborhood bar, the kind of place I grew up in where you feel fine bringing your mom or your girlfriend here and not worry about any problems.”
A. Michele: “I’ve known Ron for like 30-some years. I’m a dietician and I’ve worked with food since I was 16. My very first job was cooking at Chicken’s Tavern & Restaurant in St. Libory. So I have a big background in food. And we were talking and I said, ‘Well, you know, I could probably help you put some money down. We might as well.’ I love being a dietician but it’s getting to be old. Thirty years of doing the same thing.”
Q. Will food be served?
A. Michele: “Eventually we’ll have the kitchen running. And on Sundays we’re going to have free food when we have football games. You get to a point where you don’t want to just drink. You need some nourishment.”
Q. Why did you enjoy being in the bar as a kid?
A. Ron: “Our generation, that’s where you got to hang out with your dad, at the bar playing the bowling machine or playing pool. Got to hang out with him and the guys and made you feel older.”
Q. What are the folks who favor this bar like?
A. Theresa: “The reason I’ve stayed here this long is because it is a hometown, mom-and-pop bar. You get to know the people really well. You know their families, their problems, their celebrations, their mourning, all of that. It’s a really good clientele. They’re down to earth. You get a few odd ones once in a while. But it’s got a good reputation. It’s one of these places, a woman can come in and you’re not going to be bothered. We don’t have the ruffians. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been here this long.”
Q. What are they saying now that they know it’ll be open again?
A. Theresa: “My phone has been blowing up. They just want it open. They’re excited to be back. I managed this for ten years before Jerry passed away.”
A. Michele: “We really just can’t wait to get it open. The gentleman that owned the bar passed away suddenly. I’m sorry that he passed away, but we’re going to carry on his tradition.
Q. This isn’t an average change of ownership for a business considering this bar’s history, it seems like it’s a little more than that. What’s it like making this transition?
A. Theresa: I love the fact that (Ron and Michele) want to carry on the way that (Jerry) did things. But then of course change is a good thing. So there were some things that are changing and that’s going to be the exciting part of it. We’re going to keep those memories and also make new ones. Everybody that’s on board is really excited.
Q. Are you bringing anyone back who worked here before?
A. Ron: “I met Theresa when I came to look at the place and we clicked really well, pretty much offered her the job the same day. She’s been a great help as the liaison between the (Schildknecht family) and me and has done a lot of things behind the scenes to make this a smooth transition.”
A. Theresa: “To be asked to come back on was a big honor.”
A. Michele: “And all the previous bartenders are coming back, too.”
A. Ron: “We got our whole crew back.”