Downtown Joliet diner takes on Route 66 name
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org July 26, 2012 9:44PM
People gather outside The Joliet Route 66 Diner for a ribbon cutting to mark the renaming of the Joliet Restaurant as part of a Destination Marketing program for downtown Joliet Thursday, July 26, 2012, at 22 W. Clinton in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 28, 2012 6:15AM
JOLIET — People weren’t just getting their kicks on Route 66 early Thursday morning — they were cutting into pancakes and crunching toast, too, at a newly rechristened Joliet Route 66 Diner.
The diner, formerly known as Joliet Restaurant, has been open for 20 years. But a few months ago, Tom Mahalik, marketing vice president for the City Center Partnership, came up with an idea to rebrand the restaurant at 22 W. Clinton St. to tie in with the city’s Route 66 heritage.
Restaurant co-owners John and Valentina Georgouses happily went along for the ride.
“It was a great idea,” John Georgouses said. “It’s not only good for the restaurant, it’s good for downtown, too.”
At a ribbon cutting Thursday, Mahalik, Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante, state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, and other officials unveiled the restaurant’s new name, motif and neon red-white-and-blue signs. Even the menu was revamped with “Mother Road Morning Meals” and “Sandwiches Route 66 Style.”
Inside, the restaurant retains its no-frills diner charm, complete with swivel stools and an old-fashioned lunch counter.
But now the walls are peppered with Route 66 memorabilia and posters from “The Blues Brothers” movie.
It’s all part of a concerted effort, which includes newly expanded tours of the Rialto Square Theatre, to keep Route 66 tourists in downtown longer, Mahalik said.
“It’s the first stop out of Chicago as they go across Route 66 and the country,” he said.
Route 53 (Ottawa Street) in downtown Joliet is part of the old Route 66 highway, which stretched 2,400 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif. Nicknamed the “Mother Road” and glamorized by the 1960s TV show of the same name, the highway epitomizes the American dream, said Tony Contos, executive director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum, which houses the Route 66 Welcome Center at 204 N. Ottawa St.
People from around the world are stopping in Joliet to get a taste of Americana, he said. The welcome center has had visitors from 37 states and 34 countries.
Just this summer, visitors from England, Germany, Australia, Canada, Cypress, France, Estonia, Grenada, Spain, Scotland and China have signed the welcome center’s e-guest book.
“The whole world views this (road) as the iconic growth of America ... and the spirit of freedom it gave people,” Contos said.
Elaine Stonich, Route 66 gift shop manager, said it’s smart to rename the diner and decorate it with Route 66 paraphernalia. In the past, she has referred tourists to the Polk-A-Dot Drive In restaurant in Braidwood for a taste of Route 66 charm. But now she’ll suggest the Route 66 Diner as well.
For the tourists — who come by car, van, bus, bike or motorcycle — it’s all about the name, she said.
“These people have saved up and they’ve been planning this (trek) for years,” she said. “And they want Route 66 stuff. There are certainly a large group of enthusiasts out there.”
While people come from near and far to tour Route 66, on Thursday, one diner customer just wanted food.
“I come here often with my husband,” said Anna Leon of Chicago, who works at a nearby restaurant. “When I walked in, I noticed something different.”
Leon loved the restaurant redo. But she loves something else even more.
“They have a very good breakfast,” she said. “Especially the Denver omelet.”