Lombard’s Egg House took over a corner cafe in the village’s downtown three years ago – one of the worst possible times to open a new restaurant.
The breakfast and lunch spot not only survived the pandemic, it has thrived despite it. Gone are the days of an empty dining room and carryout orders. Egg House now whips up hearty omelettes, biscuits smothered in gravy and corned beef hash served in skillets for weekend brunch crowds.
“They’ve been one of our downtown success stories,” Lombard Community Development Director William Heniff said.
Looking to build on that success, the owners of Egg House are hatching a plan to revive a neighboring vacant building with a complementary dining concept. The project calls for a complete renovation of the shuttered building to accommodate a dinnertime restaurant attached to Egg House.
“The American dream is here for us,” said owner Toni Zekjiri, who’s from Albania and runs Egg House seven days a week. “If you work hard, you make it in America.”
The plan is to connect the one-story structure with the adjacent Egg House building to allow for additional seating and use of the existing kitchen infrastructure, not unlike Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse and Holy Mackerel, the accompanying seafood restaurant in Lombard’s Westin hotel.
The working name of the new downtown restaurant is Grove Tavern. That’s an homage to the Grove restaurant that previously occupied the Egg House site at Main Street and St. Charles Road and village history. Before it was Lombard, the area was known as Babcock’s Grove.
“It’s in honor of my father’s legacy, but also a tribute to Lombard as well,” George Garifalis said.
His father, Pete Garifalis, and his business partner used to own the Grove back in the 1960s. The property has stayed in the Garifalis family for almost 50 years.
His dad is 91 and still shares recipes with the Egg House owners. He’s “really tickled” about the project, George Garifalis said.
“We have a long history with Lombard. We care about Lombard,” he said. “We care about the community.”
Bona Pizza was a past tenant of the storefront next door, which currently is an empty shell. George Garifalis is spearheading the project with the Egg House owners to make that “end of the street come alive.”
“It is at a very prominent corner in our downtown and it’s highly visible and it’s another one of the transformative projects that we’re really trying to advance in the downtown,” Heniff said.
Lombard’s economic and community development committee has recommended approval of up to $170,000 in village grants to facilitate the project. Lombard trustees will consider the grant applications Sept. 21.
The property owner has requested up to $50,000 for the proposed facade improvements, a downtown retail business grant of up to $20,000 for the interior improvements and a restaurant forgivable loan of up to $100,000 for the proposed build-out of the vacant building at 6 W. St. Charles Road, along with related tenant modifications in the Egg House restaurant space.
Construction costs for the project are estimated at $740,000, Heniff said. Plans for the Grove Tavern show “substantial masonry improvements,” Heniff said and a three-season dining room.
“When you look at the property itself, this is a substantial capital investment that they’re making in the property and I think that’s one of the things that’s really attractive,” Heniff said.
Zekjiri wants to turn the empty space into another family-friendly restaurant with a “very nice patio” and a menu featuring smash burgers to complement Egg House’s breakfast and lunch operation.
“I have to make something different because the community is so nice,” Zekjiri said.
After 15 years of working in the industry, Zekjiri knew he had to take a chance and open his own restaurant with his business partner, even in the depths of the pandemic. His landlord trusted him and Lombardians supported Egg House with to-go orders for breakfast and Friday fish fries during the indoor dining shutdown.
Three years later, customers take seats at one of the booths or tables for the tiramisu pancakes, Nutella-stuffed French toast or chicken and waffles sprinkled with bacon.
“They put forth a great product,” George Garifalis said. “They care. They’re there every day.
“They’re smiling. They take care of people. "