Port Edward Restaurant’s founder, the ‘Renaissance Man’ dies at 92

Edward Wolowiec, 92, a musician, an artist, world traveler and collector, dies

Port Edward Restaurant founder Edward Wolowiec has had careers exploring the oceans as a diver in salvage expeditions and in music, both as a performer and teacher. Wolowiec designed and supervised the building of Port Edward Restaurant. It opened in 1964 on the Fox River.

The final chapter of a storied man – a musician, an artist, world traveler, collector and the founder of the Port Edward Restaurant in Algonquin, affectionately referred to as “The Renaissance Man” – has ended.

On Tuesday, a group of longtime restaurant employees and friends gathered, cut out photographs and created memory boards for this week’s services at Willow Funeral Home in Algonquin for the funeral of Edward Wolowiec, 92, who died Saturday in his Port Barrington Shores home.

They reminisced about a man who never married; taught them about manners, hospitality and customer service; and would not tolerate swearing or rudeness.

Wolowiec designed and built the eclectic restaurant nestled along the Fox River where many generations of families have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or just enjoyed random summer afternoons outside on the dock watching the boats pass by.

Port Edward Restaurant, located at 20 W. Algonquin Road in Algonquin, offers a large outdoor patio on the Fox River.

Wolowiec, originally from Chicago, loved his employees and their families as his own and the feelings were mutual, they said.

Port Edward Restaurant began as the Anchor Lounge, a small tavern on Algonquin road near a boat launch serving burgers and pizzas. Then in 1960, Wolowiec, about 30 years old and working as a professional musician and teacher, was asked to become part owner by the parents of one of his students.

He accepted and had intended to own it only for a year or two, then move on.

But he wound up buying out his partners, changing the name of the restaurant and building the landmark it is today, famous for its vacation-like vibes, seafood and holiday brunch buffets.

With only sketches of his idea of what the site could become, he went to the local bank and secured $100,000 loan.

He then proceeded to lay the footings to install an indoor pond where he put in a real 25-foot-long sailboat named the Porpoise that once sailed on Lake Michigan.

He built the walls around the footing of the pond and adorned the walls, made from wood from old buildings including three McHenry County barns, an old Milwaukee dairy plant and a Chicago piano company, according to those who worked with him and a book titled “Port Edward Restaurant.”

Floating in the Port Edward indoor harbor is the 25-foot sailboat, Porpoise, built in 1934 by Bond Boat Builders in Chicago.

He filled the building with artwork he created and his extensive nautical collection, including harpoons and deep-sea helmets he personally collected in his 40 years of travels around the world, and a windmill he saved from demolition on a nearby farm. Rocks seen throughout the restaurant were ones he personally carried from a nearby quarry, friends and staff said.

Tables are made from a World War II ship named the USS Liberty and some of the seating comes from old churches, said Scott Puckett, a food and beverage consultant and longtime friend of Wolowiec.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wolowiec rarely visited the restaurant but, on occasion, would drive through the parking lot, Puckett said. He watched the restaurant live from his home from cameras placed throughout the restaurant.

Edward Wolowiec, founder of Port Edward Restaurant in Algonquin

General manager Ziya Senturk said despite Wolowiec’s passing, he and his team will keep their promise to keep the restaurant alive until its 100th anniversary.

Diane Kuberski, of Crystal Lake who has worked at the restaurant for 48 years and whose three children also worked at the restaurant, said she began going to the restaurant as a child with her grandparents.

“This was our treat when we were here,” she said. “This was like being on a big vacation.”

“He was always very, very nice,” she said, adding that while at times it was “his way or the highway,” he would do anything for anyone.

Cynthia Stillwell, who worked at the restaurant for 49 years, starting as a dishwasher and working her way up, said Wolowiec was “Papa” to her.

He didn’t let her drink, smoke cigarettes, swear, just like her own dad at home, she said.

Ziya Senturk, general manager operations of Port Edward Restaurant in Algonquin and Edward Wolowiec, restaurant founder

“I just grew to love him,” she said, and he was supportive when she had to deal with personal issues. She said she wanted to go into treatment, and he responded with “We are behind you 100%.”

Lee Ann Konitz, of Fox River Grove, worked at Port Edward for 25 years. She said the people who work there are not just employees but family.

“I’m hoping it stays the way Ed would like it to be here,” Konitz said. “I think Ziya and Scotty are going to do a great job of doing that.”

Senturk and Puckett were with Wolowiec regularly and on the day he died at his home he once shared with Lisa Frese, the “love of his life” for 22 years, Senturk said.

Frese died at the age of 71 from cancer about two months ago, they said.

Senturk said he will miss speaking with his friend every day and learning from him.

“He was not just my boss. He was an icon of our industry and creator and a legend, and learning from him and talking to him that’s what I will miss the most,” Senturk said. “We always said to each other he is the creator and I am the implementer.”

Puckett said he will mostly miss “not being able to call him or talk to him and knowing he is here and watching.”

Senturk said he found a plaque he is going to place inside Wolowiec’s casket Wednesday engraved with words reflective of the man’s attributes, including selfless, caring, kind-hearted and gentle.

Wolowiec will be buried in the old part of the Algonquin cemetery overlooking the Fox River and the restaurant Wolowiec devoted his life to, Senturk said.

Wolowiec made his first visit to the restaurant after the COVID-19 pandemic struck this past July to celebrate the restaurant’s 58th anniversary and his 92nd birthday, Senturk said.

He stood at the microphone outside on the patio and told the crowd, which included his employees and customers, that he had been given the greatest gift of being there that day “at his baby,” meaning the restaurant, Senturk recalled.

“I’ve got the greatest gift from all of you,” Senturk recalls Wolowiec saying. “My baby’s back to life and going strong.”

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