Restaurant Row is my name for the six very successful restaurants on the east side of the 400-900 blocks of North Hershey Road in Bloomington. (The restaurant blocks are consecutive but the numbering skips 600 and 700).
This chain of six restaurants reminds me of the first “Restaurant Row” in Bloomington where the first restaurants opened in the mid-1970s when Bloomington-Normal was starting to boom.
However, let’s take a look at the current Restaurant Row first. Coming north on Hershey Road from East Washington Street, Hacienda Leon is the first of six restaurants. Next is Pop Up Chicken which recently moved from the Bloomington VFW to the former Hooter’s/JP’s Wheel and Ale House location. Rob Dob’s is third, then across Castleton Drive to the north is Culver’s. Finally, a little hidden behind a tire and auto service store are both DR McKay’s Mexican Restaurant and Herradura.
Another soon-to-open restaurant that will be the seventh on Restaurant Row is Egg Republic, although it’s located one block east of Hershey Road on Chancellor Drive in the old Caffe Italia building which is undergoing a renovation. major. Egg Republic is described by the owners as an upscale restaurant for breakfast and lunch.
A possible eighth restaurant for Restaurant Row is Kegler’s Pub located in the 800 block on the west side of Hershey Road. The GM told me that Kegler will look completely different later in 2023 after undergoing a $600,000 remodel of the bar, kitchen, and dining room.
Now let’s go back almost 50 years and take a look at the first Restaurant Row. The first two restaurants on the 700 block of Eldorado Road, which would soon become known as Restaurant Row, were the present-day Monica’s Pizza and the former Ireland’s. Both I believe opened in 1974. They were followed in no particular order by Denny’s, Sirloin Stockade, Western Sizzlin’, Red Lobster, Butterfield’s, Bill Bailey’s Speakeasy, Dixon’s Fish Dock, Shakey’s, Bonanza, Eldorado Dining Co., Hardwood Café, Taj Mahal, Jose Wong’s, Yen Ching, Eric’s Great Steaks, Redmondo’s, Smiling Moose and many more over the years.
Maybe sometimes just for fun I should make a list of all the restaurants that have been on the 700 block of Eldorado Road. I suspect that maybe 40 or more restaurants call this block home.
From Larry’s Notebook
• Chicken Salad Chicken — The fourth location in Illinois is planned for Veterans Place at 506 IAA Drive, Bloomington. It was founded in Auburn, Alabama when a stay-at-home mom started selling her chicken salad door-to-door and the local health department told her she needed a license, because the sale of homemade food was prohibited.
She devised a plan to open her own store in 2008 and now it’s franchised with 205 restaurants in 17 states.
• Scooter Cafe — Scooter’s is a drive-thru and will be located at 1508-1510 N. Main St., across from Tobin’s Pizza at the former Shooting Star/Owen’s Nursery & Florist location. It was founded in 1998 by a husband and wife in Bellevue, Nebraska, and is now approaching 1,500 locations in 30 states.
• Big coffee – Owner Jimmy Mapugay has announced that the Grand Café on East Oakland Avenue in Bloomington will double in size when it expands into the vacant space to the south that once housed Hanson’s Cleaners. The new area will have a dining room that seats approximately 100 people and a full bar.
• Lupita’s Mexican-American grocery store — The new owners have had the store for about a year and have made many changes which I believe have greatly improved the store located in the Market Square mall at 1512 W. Market St. They have greatly expanded their product section and now use their own refrigerated truck twice a week to bring personally selected produce to an international produce market in Chicago. They said business had increased by at least 70%.
• At Jimmy John’s Bloomington resident Marc Largent is the local Jimmy John’s franchisee who, at 35, now owns 35 Jimmy John’s franchises. He bought all five Jimmy John’s BNs from Mary Strack in 2018, then over the past three years added 30 more franchises in Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois.
• A Larry’s favorite menu item – A 14-ounce grilled rib steak and salad bar on Saturday night at Longbranch Again in Cooksville.
Carius, of Bloomington, is a former food program and plan review supervisor for the McLean County Health Department. His Facebook blog, Bloomington-Normal Restaurant Scene, has 34,000 followers.
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