News - McHenry County

Hebron’s The Dari is for sale after 53 years in same family

Sunday was ice cream-and-burger shop’s last day for the season

A “Thank You Everyone! We Love You!” Sign greats customers outside the Dari in Hebron Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, to get food and ice cream. The Hebron landmark, that has been in operation for 53 years, is closing and up for sale. Sunday was their last day of operation.

After 53 years in the family, Sunday was Martha Johnson and Mary Noonan’s last day running The Dari in Hebron.

If the sisters find a buyer for the restaurant before spring 2023, the two plan to retire.

“We are going to relax and watch everything on Netflix,” Johnson said.

“We will have the freedom to do what we want” in the summer months instead of working, Noonan said.

Located on the corner of Routes 47 and 173, the restaurant has been in the family since 1969 when their parents, Ruth and Ham Wilson, bought what was then a Dari-Delite chain restaurant.

It is a landmark in downtown Hebron.

People line up outside the Dari in Hebron Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, to get food and ice cream. The Hebron landmark, that has been in operation for 53 years, is closing and up for sale. Sunday was their last day of operation.

“This is how people knew what Hebron was,” said resident Tina Hayes shortly after ordering food and ice cream with her children at the walk-up window.

Although the family has owned The Dari since 1969, Noonan has a slightly longer history. She started working there as a high school junior 55 years ago. Her mother, Ruth Wilson, worked there too, before she and her husband decided to buy the location, Noonan said.

After the purchase, the Wilson’s four children; Noonan, Johnson and their brothers, Ham Jr. and Billy, all worked there.

“We worked here all through high school, every single day,” Noonan said.

When their mother died in 1988, the sisters took over, opening from the first weekend in April to late September or early October, Johnson said.

Mary Noonan, left, and sister Martha Johnson, have worked at or owned The Dari in Hebron for 53 years. Their last day, and the ice cream shop's. was Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022.

It has always been a family enterprise. Johnson’s husband, Kent, has worked there for the past several years, as did their daughter Lily and son Gabe.

Noonan’s wife of six years and partner for 33 years, Rachel Selking, helps out on the weekends as well, Noonan said.

While successful during their summer hours, The Dari wasn’t their only jobs.

Noonan taught physical education in Hebron schools. Johnson was a server at restaurants and a lunch lady at the schools while also raising her two children.

Johnson’s daughter, Lily Johnson, was in the kitchen for the last Sunday. “I grew up here, helping out,” Lily said. But both she and her brother live in Madison now and have lives and jobs of their own and do not want to take over.

People line up outside the Dari in Hebron Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, to get food and ice cream. The Hebron landmark, that has been in operation for 53 years, is closing and up for sale. Sunday was their last day of operation.

Both Noonan and Johnson said they are ready to do something else.

“We are tired of working so hard. We love what we do. We grew up with this,” Noonan said.

“This is the happiest place in the world,” Johnson said.

It is the people they have worked with and served food to that has made it that way, Johnson said. Over the years, people who came to The Dari every summer, either because they lived in Hebron or because they drove past on their way to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, stopped by for an ice cream cone, a sundae or burgers and fries.

“We appreciate them, and we take care of them,” Johnson said of their patrons.

But the work has been tough, too. Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, they were open seven days a week through the season. Since the pandemic, they closed on Tuesdays to get at least one day off.

For those who live in Hebron, seeing the sisters move on brings back childhood memories.

Freya Schwartz, 2, enjoys an ice cream cone outside the Dari in Hebron on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. The Hebron landmark, that has been in operation for 53 years, is closing and up for sale. Sunday was their last day of operation.

Michael and Carissa Vazquez waited in line Sunday for their ice cream treats. The two, now 35 and 28, grew up in Hebron but now live in Woodstock. They still go to The Dari whenever they can in the summer — often on the first day of the season in April and on the last day in mid-September and every time in between, Michael said.

“If we pass through, it’s, ‘Let’s go pick up The Dari,’ ” Michael said.

In elementary school, Michael said he used to scour the family couch for loose change and knew exact how much he needed to get a burger there, including tax.

Carissa remembers going there after volleyball or softball practices. It was the place teens hung out in the summer.

“When we had open lunch in high school, we would call on our way to order and it would be ready. We would walk back to school eating,” Carissa said.

Both said they hope whoever buys the shop doesn’t make too many changes.

The right buyer, Johnson and Noonan said, would have children to help them run the restaurant.

“It would be perfect for a young family with kids. That and having a good sense of humor. And wear compression socks,” Johnson said.