Merichka’s Restaurant in Crest Hill back to business day after gunfire

Theodore Street gun battle passes; Merichka’s appeal endures

Customers get ready to leave Merichka’s the day after a shooting outside the restaurant in Joliet.

Merichka’s had a good lunchtime crowd Wednesday, less than 24 hours after gunfire outside the Crest Hill restaurant shut down the business for most of a day.

“It’s going to take more than that to stop us from coming,” said Joe Oscepinski of Peru, who was waiting on an order of yodel burgers with his wife, Karen.

The Oscepinskis have been coming to Merichka’s for 40 years and said they aren’t the only Peru residents who make the trip to the Crest Hill restaurant a part of their culinary routine.

“The food – there’s nothing like it,” Karen Oscepinski said of the appeal of Merichka’s.

It could be described as a triumph of good food over evil as business kept humming at Merichka’s despite the exchange of gunfire Tuesday afternoon by shooters who left a few holes in the restaurant windows and siding.

Merichka’s manager Ryan George was cautiously optimistic as he prepared for a return to business as usual Wednesday morning.

Bullet holes are plastered over as Merichka’s manager Ryan George describes the events of the shooting that riddled the building on Tuesday afternoon.

“Only time will tell,” George said about the potential impact of the gunfire on future business.

Wednesday business already had been booked with reservations for two funeral lunches and an evening party.

Merichka’s, located at 604 Theodore St., did hear from customers concerning the shooting.

“We had someone who was very disappointed that we were closed yesterday,” George said, taking that as a good sign that customers had not be deterred by the shooting.

The Crest Hill Police Department posted on its Facebook page these images from security cameras in the area of the Theodore Street shooting on Tuesday, April 2. The two people in this image were seen north from Merichka’s Restaurant between 1 and 2 p.m. Tuesday, according to the police.

No one was arrested, and police continue to investigate what led to an exchange of gunfire between shooters on both sides of Theodore Street at about 1 p.m. Tuesday. No one apparently was hurt, but the spray of bullets also hit the Envisions Salon and Ascendant Iron store located in a strip mall on the other side of Theodore Street across from Merichka’s, which is in Joliet.

The Crest Hill Police Department released images captured on security cameras in the area of the Tuesday shooting that happened along Theodore Street.

Police are asking people who live in the area, 600 block of Theodore Street, to check their security cameras if they have them.

Merichka's Restaurant, 604 Theodore St. in Crest Hill as seen on April 2, 2024. The family-owned restaurant has been in business since 1933.

For better or worse, the gunfire outside the restaurant was seen by at least some as life in America today.

“I gave up when they started shooting in the grocery stores, the churches and the schools,” said Roger Thompson of Romeoville, a former Joliet resident eating at Merichka’s on Wednesday.

“It doesn’t stop us from coming here,” he said. “We’ve been coming here since 1975.”

Thompson was dining with his wife, Felicia Thompson, who years ago had a high school homecoming event at Merichka’s and said the Tuesday incident would not keep her from coming to the restaurant.

“This is my favorite,” Felicia Thompson said.

When she travels to visit relatives who have moved from the area, they often ask her to bring Merichka’s famous poor boy sandwiches with her, Thompson said. When out-of-towners come to visit, Merichka’s often is a place they all go to eat, she said.

Karen Oscepinski said she and her husband wondered what impact the shooting would have on business and found out Wednesday when they approached the restaurant and saw the number of cars parked outside.

“We pulled into the parking lot, and we got our answer,” Oscepinski said. “It didn’t deter the people.”