Like many others who had made their way to Fischer’s Restaurant for dinner Thursday night, Jill Kraus was ready for some filet mignon.
It was customer appreciation night at the longtime restaurant at 2100 W. Main St. on the city’s west side, and the filet mignon was the nightly special. The parking lot was packed as were the dining room and lounge. Waiters and waitresses buzzed around the building, making sure everyone was happy with their food.
This was no regular Thursday night, though. Many inside the restaurant had come out after hearing the news that afternoon that Fischer’s will be closing next month. The restaurant has been in its current location since 1941, but the Fischer family’s roots in the restaurant business date back more than 80 years to the Okaw Dairy Shop, which opened in 1935 at 322 W. Main St.
Patrons were a little more nostalgic than usual as they ate their filet mignon and fried chicken, a staple of the business.
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Kraus, a paralegal from Belleville, was having dinner with her family. She said she’s been coming to Fischer’s “as long as I can remember.”
“It’s always been a special place to come,” Kraus said. “We’d come for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, all of that. It’s always a special occasion place.”
While business was bustling Thursday, overall, it hasn’t been good enough to keep it going, general manager Corea Buck said.
“We have been struggling for quite a few years,” Buck said. “We’ve done everything we’ve could to keep it open. There are so many reasons (for the closures). In the last 20 years there have been so many chains (restaurants) opening. Then 10 years ago, it (was opening) banquet centers. Then it was (opening) Frank Scott Parkway to make sure everybody goes elsewhere. Obamacare has not helped the restaurant.”
The news of Fischer’s closing brought out a flood of reaction on social media. A News-Democrat Facebook post about the news drew more than 80 responses and nearly 250 reactions, and the post was shared more than 750 times.
Those who were in the business Thursday were sad to hear of its fate.
“I was really shocked,” Krause said. “I didn’t expect it. It’s a longtime family tradition. I knew they were changing management. I’ve been reading about it in the newspaper, but I didn’t expect that this would happen.”
The restaurant was run for many years by Kenny Fischer, the longtime Belleville restaurateur and civic leader who died Jan. 18, 2016, at age 84. Buck ran the business for co-owners Annette Allan and Kathy Bingheim, who are Kenny Fischer’s daughters.
The staff was told of the plans to close during an afternoon meeting Thursday.
“Besides losing our father, this probably is the worst day of our lives,” Allan said.
The restaurant has about 60 employees. It also has many loyal customers who will miss the food and atmosphere.
“There isn’t anything that isn’t good,” Krause said of the menu. “It’s home-cooked-style meals. That’s why you come here.”