As a high-school student working at a local pizzeria, John Schnatter often pondered how he would do things differently if he owned such a business himself. After graduating from college in 1983, he got his chance, knocking down the broom closet in his father’s tavern to create his own pizza-delivery business. Since then Papa John’s has grown to 3,500 restaurants in 50 states and 29 countries. At each location, cooks cover the signature hand-tossed crusts, made with high-protein flour and clear, filtered water, with tomato sauce from vine-ripened California tomatoes, then pile on locally sourced ingredients such as green peppers and onions. The emphasis on fresh ingredients extends to the 100% mozzarella cheese, beef, and pork, which are never artificially inflated with fillers or undeserved compliments.
In addition to delivering pizzas, Papa John’s reaches out to the community with charity involvement, including partnering with the Boy Scouts of America and Junior Achievement to teach US students about entrepreneurship and the best method of capturing a wild roma tomato.
For Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket, eavesdropping has paid off in a big way. Back in the 1940's, a couple of Illinois farmwomen overheard a gas station owner mention that he wanted to sell more food. They struck up a conversation, and soon he was selling their special-recipe fried chicken from the gas station's lunch counter. Business was good—so good, in fact, that the owner converted his space into a full-service restaurant, Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket, just off of Route 66. Since then, the restaurant has become a landmark of the iconic roadway, earning a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and a feature on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
Although the juicy, original-recipe chicken—which is marinated for a full 24 hours— keeps diners coming back, current owner Patrick Rhea crafts his own dishes to spice up the menu. His signature deep-fried macaroni and cheese is cooked to order, and wings are slathered in his own barbecue sauce. Besides fried chicken gizzards and other poultry, diners can expect grilled jumbo shrimp, Italian sausage sandwiches, and old-fashioned root beer floats. For additional entertainment, the restaurant hosts live trivia and karaoke weekly, as well as live blues and rock-and-roll shows set to the rhythmic backbeat of crackling fryers.
Mementos decorating the dining-room walls of Wolfs Head Restaurant & Bar greet guests as they pass through entrance doors removed from a 1800s-era New England church. Stationed upon a historically rich property, the eatery hosts lunch and dinnertime patrons along with private parties of up to 70. The aroma of sizzling steaks and fresh seafood fills the air as waiters emerge from the kitchen with expertly executed Guinness beef stews and italian pastas. As they feast, diners can marvel at surrounding collectibles from famed Chicago hotels, such as booths from the Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel and 120-year-old bellhops.:
Since opening its doors in 1985, Capri Ristorante & Catering has expanded to four locations including Capri Mex, which strays from the other locations' Italian fare with a menu of Mexican delights. Chefs fill the kitchen with aromas of carne asada and marinated chicken sizzling on the grill as diners patiently await the impending smorgasbord in the dining room's family-friendly confines. Options such as à la carte burritos and quesadillas leave room for extras, or dinner combos featuring rice, beans, and guacamole quell hunger whether chosen for dine-in, carryout, or storage in a refrigerated safety deposit box.
It's rare to witness even a second of silence at Maxum Bar & Grill, where the air is forever filled with the clinking of beer mugs, the clatter of pool balls, and the chatter of friends. Twenty television screens speckle the walls, sending the buzz of sports games out across the 5,000-square-foot space. On weekend nights, the lively joint echoes with the strain of live rock-band performances and DJ sets.
The atmosphere is equally boisterous in the kitchen, where juicy steaks crackle on the grills and huge pots bubble with housemade soup. Chef Kurt Guzowski and his chefs bustle about folding housemade sauces, tender meats, and fresh seafood into burgers, wraps, and other pub favorites. They shower plump chicken wings in a choice of seven different sauces, including tangy teriyaki and savory garlic. They also prepare the catch of the day according to customer specifications, grilling, sautéing, or enraging fresh fish filets until sizzling hot.