Crystal Lake, IL
Branded Steak House
Around The Clock
Little John's Sandwich Shop
Lenny's The Breakers
Oak Social Club
Martinetti's was located at the intersection of Route 14 and Teckler Boulevard. In 1934, the first restaurant to be located here was Fritzel's Fiesta, also known as Fritzel's New Cafe. George Fritzel's distinctive red and white building contained a restaurant, bar and ballroom. It was praised for its beauty and convenient location.
Fritzel's Cafe, 1934
By the late 1930s, George Fritzel had closed the Fiesta Cafe and returned to his previous establishment, the Meadow Lark Lodge. The Fiesta property was sold to Edward Bessey in 1939 and became the Oak Social Club. Bessey was one of the owners of Oak Manufacturing, and the club was used by Oak employees for parties, dancing and other social activities. During World War II, many fundraising events and "knitting parties" took place there.
In 1947, Bessey sold the property to Frank and Lucille Martinetti and Aldo and Inez Tondi. The two couples renamed the restaurant Martinetti's Fiesta. It was the second location in the Martinetti chain, the first being in Rockford.
At this point, the dining room, cocktail bar and banquet hall were on the first floor and the dance floor was in the basement.
Martinetti's Fiesta opened in September 1947. In addition to dinner, cocktails and banquet rooms, the restaurant also featured Mans Horst at the Hammond organ, playing your favorite tunes. Horst was previously the organist at the Rockford location.
In 1950, the bar and restaurant were moved downstairs and the first floor was converted into an apartment and 17 hotel rooms. This part of the business was known as Martinetti's Hotel Fiesta.
1946 aerial view
According to newspaper ads from the early 1950s, Martinetti's offered steaks, seafood, chicken-in-a-basket, businessmen's lunches and nightly entertainment. In 1954, a resident at the Fiesta Hotel was arrested for "operating a handbook" (running a gambling game).
Frank and Lucille Martinetti became the sole owners in 1954 when the Tondis deeded their interest in the property to them. The building was destroyed by fire in 1955, with losses estimated at $175,000. The Martinettis moved to Las Vegas after the fire.
In 1956, Frank and Lucille Martinetti returned to Crystal Lake and built a new restaurant on the site of the old one. The new establishment was completely fireproof and featured three dining rooms, a cocktail lounge and a 24-hour coffeeshop. The updated decor included stone and masonry walls and an indoor waterfall, goldfish pond and live lobster tank.
A new motel was added to the property in the early 1960s. A large pipe organ was installed in the lounge, with an oval bar surrounding the console where guests could watch the organist while he played. Martinetti's was one of the first restaurants in the area to offer a salad bar, a Sunday buffet and an all-you-can-eat Friday fish fry. Steaks were hand cut, usually by Mr. Martinetti himself.
A 1962 chattel mortgage listed various restaurant equipment, including an L-shaped salad table, 35 dining room tables, 120 dining room chairs, 125 banquet room chairs, 120 cocktail room chairs and two murals for the banquet room. In the 1970s, the capacity of the motel was increased when a second floor was added.
After the restaurant was sold in 1976, it operated as the New Martinetti's before becoming T.C. Spirit's in 1978. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was known as September's and Coleman's Place. The entire complex was torn down in 1996 and is now the site of a Pontiac/GMC dealership. Frank Martinetti died in 2007 at the age of 98.
Original building, 1934-1955
New building, 1956-1996
Crystal "Y" Inn
Branded Steak House
The southeast corner of Routes 14 and 31 has been the site of a restaurant since at least the 1930s.
Between 1932 and 1945, the property was owned by Carl and Marie Hendricks. The couple operated a gas station and barbecue stand, which was known as Marie's Place in 1934. The name was changed to the Crystal "Y" Inn in 1935, and new menu items and Saturday night dancing were added. Hendricks purchased additional property in 1936, expanded the restaurant and phased out the gas station business. In 1940, the restaurant was known as Dick's Crystal "Y", having apparently been taken over by new management.
The restaurant became known as Otto's Crystal "Y" when Otto and Emma Koetz purchased the property in 1945. Ads of the time mentioned "famous hamburgers" and fine mixed drinks and liquors.
In 1948, the Crystal "Y" was purchased by Herbert Huppertz and Henry Kranz. A 1948 chattel mortgage listed one 50-foot bar, 27 bar chairs, 17 tables, 68 chairs, one fireplace, one piano and one Hammond electric organ with loudspeaker. Like most restaurants in the 1940s and 1950s, the Crystal "Y" featured live organ music. According to a 1951 advertisement, diners could enjoy aged steaks, jumbo French fried shrimps, "most famous basket-full of chicken," a banquet room for parties, and dining and dancing on Saturday nights. All to the accompaniment of "our pretty Irish maid, Jean Conway, at the Hammond organ."
In 1956, Herbert and Carola Huppertz became the sole owners. Between 1956 and 1964, the restaurant was known variously as The Crystal "Y" Inn, Herbie's Crystal Inn, Herbie's (Famous) Steak House and Herbie's Chicken & Steak House.
The property was sold to Moniques Inc. in 1964 and became Monique's. It was run by Pierre and Monique Coutou, who had previously been the proprietors of the Villa d'Este in Cary.
Herbie's Crystal Inn, 1957
"A family restaurant with an old-world touch"
The restaurant became the Branded Steak House in 1966 when it was purchased by Wilbert Hanke and Eldon Chewning. It quickly developed a reputation as one of the best restaurants in the area. The seating capacity was increased to 200 with the addition of the Coach Room in 1967. New banquet facilities and a new dining room in 1973 further increased the capacity to 450. The Branded hosted many banquets and Sunday brunches. Downstairs, the Lamp Lighter Lounge featured live entertainment.
In 1983, the property was leased by the Spentzos family and became the Hob Nob II. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Hob Nob was a very popular suburban-style restaurant and nightspot. The Spentzos family took over ownership of the property through a land trust, and in 2003 they completely remodeled the building and renamed it D'Andrea Banquets.
Hob Nob Facebook group
Around The Clock
In 1953, Larry DeMarce purchased the farmland south of Route 14 and east of Pingree Road from the Simpson family. Two subdivisions were recorded in 1954, and together they became known as Crystal Lake Manor. A small real estate office was built at the corner of Route 14 and Pingree Road.
In 1957, DeMarce enlarged the building and converted it into a combination truck stop and food store. The grand opening of the Auto Dine was in December 1957. DeMarce promoted the event by driving a pony cart through Crystal Lake's downtown business district.
The Auto Dine was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was managed by Ruth and Larry DeMarce, and the first chef was Henry Wallace. Typical diner fare was served at spacious counters and in the rear dining room. The menu included chicken, shrimp, sandwiches, breakfast items, John Sexton coffee, ice cream and sodas. Carry-out items were also available.
The adjoining grocery and deli featured cold meats, dairy products, cheese, candy and frozen foods. An exceptionally large parking lot with three entrances could accommodate the smallest cars and the biggest rigs.
In April 1958, carhop service was added, using a high-tech intercom system and window trays, similar to other drive-ins of the day.
1965 aerial view, showing the building and large
parking lot, with two semi-trucks parked there
The business was purchased in 1959 by Wilbert Hanke, who ran it until 1967. After opening the Branded Steak House in 1966, Hanke found himself with no time to run the Auto Dine. In 1967, it was purchased by Lester Cunningham, who had previously been the chef at the Crystal Lake Country Club and Branded Steak House.
The building was modernized with the addition of a new floor, new kitchen fixtures, a new counter, new chairs and refinished booths. According to a newspaper article of the time, the eatery now consisted of a counter with 24 stools, a main dining room seating 42 at tables and booths, and a rear dining room seating 20, where diners could watch the char-broil cooking. There were also carry-out items and fountain service. Advertisements promoted the "new" Auto Dine as a family restaurant.
The Auto Dine closed at some point during the early 1970s. By the time George and Katina Theofanous bought the property in 1975, it had been closed for several years. They tore down the original building, constructed a new one, and opened a new 24-hour restaurant named Around The Clock.
In 1977, the basement was converted into a separate dining area and nightspot, which was first known as Shangri-La and later as The Catacombs. When George and Katina's sons, Steve and Fano, took over the business in the early 1980s, they closed the downstairs restaurant and converted it into a bakery. Around The Clock's award-winning bakery sold its first pie in 1985.
2007 aerial view
When the building was expanded to the east in 1997, the foundations of the original Auto Dine building were discovered. Extensive remodeling took place in 2008, giving the restaurant a modern interior with lots of wood finishes and warm colors. Around The Clock celebrated 35 years in business in 2010, and I wish to thank Fano Theofanous for generously taking the time to talk with me.
Little John's Sandwich Shop
Little John's was located at the northeast corner of Routes 31 and 176. The land was purchased by Dr. Edmond Brunswick in 1927 and was known as the Brunswick corner for many years. This intersection became a highly desirable business location in 1935 when the paving of Route 176 between Crystal Lake and Burton's Bridge was completed.
The first business to be located here was a gas station, built and run by Dr. Brunswick. Among other things, this station had gas pumps with rolling numbers, which allowed customers to purchase their gas by dollar amount. This was the very latest in gas pump technology. Plans for the station got underway in 1935, and a lease was signed by the Sinclair Refining Company in 1937.
In 1939, Dr. Brunswick became a local celebrity when one of his inventions caught a burglar in his gas station. During the night, a photo-electric beam detected the burglar's presence and triggered a camera and siren apparatus devised by Brunswick. The camera produced a crystal-clear photograph of the culprit, which aided police in easily apprehending him.
Later on, the location was known as Art's Service Station. According to newspaper ads, it was known by this name from at least 1947 to 1958, possibly longer.
The location became a Shell service station in 1960 when Edmond and Helen Brunswick deeded the property to Shell Oil Company. It remained a Shell station until 1980, when it was converted into a restaurant and became Little John's Sandwich Shop. This very popular eatery was run by George and Dino Arvanitis, and featured typical "Chicago style" items like hot dogs, Italian beef, gyros and chicken. Shell Oil deeded the land to Little John's in 1983. Like most restaurants of this type, it developed a very loyal following during its 29-year history.
After many years in business, the owners became interested in redeveloping the property. In 2002, Osco Drug Stores expressed interest in renting the space, but this deal fell through. The land was deeded to G & D Arvanitis LLC in 2008 and was leased to Walgreen Company in 2009. To the dismay of many, Little John's closed in September 2009 and the building was torn down. The new Walgreens drug store opened in August 2010. There was talk of possibly placing a Little John's restaurant inside the Walgreens store, or of opening another location elsewhere in Crystal Lake, but these ideas didn't pan out.