As 11 p.m. approached, Harry D'Ercole requested the handful of remaining customers and the staff—past and present—to gather in the lounge of his restaurant, , on Wednesday, Aug. 15.
A steady crowd of diners kept the restaurant filled and kept D'Ercole floating from table to table to visit with loyal diners and friends. He didn't work the room like a restaurateur trying to ensure repeat business. Instead, he glided through this building that's been sizable part of his life since 1974 like the host of a family dinner party, making sure everyone was enjoying themselves.
And the feeling was mutual.
Whether "regulars" to Enrico's, neighbors or school friends, the people who ate for the last time at the restaurant's current location felt like a part of D'Ercole's family for the time they dined there. They struck up friendly conversations with D'Ercole. They teased him about how he could ever think of closing down this building. And they hugged him. In fact, most of the evening was about hugging.
"If Harry doesn't know and feel love. ... These people are not customers. They're family," said Shirley Guemdling, of Mokena, who had been coming to Enrico's since 1974. She was there Wednesday night with her husband and friends.
Peggy Rivard (neé Haldane) attended Eisenhower High School with D'Ercole. The two were close friends, working together in the school's DECA marketing and business program. But over the years, they lost touch, which can happen after school and life starts getting in the way of things. Thanks to another former classmate and Facebook, the two reconnected five years ago.
When Rivard heard D'Ercole was closing this location, she had no choice but to book a flight from Houston, her current home, and be here for her friend.
Greg Spielmann felt similarly compelled to be here on the last night. Spielmann lives in Lowell, Ind., but he came to Frankfort for a group photo of past Enrico's employees Tuesday; he was one of the original pizza makers when the restaurant opened. During the photo shoot, Spielmann asked D'Ercole if he could return the next day and help out.
On Wednesday night, Spielmann left his construction job early and was back in Enrico's kitchen—a place he hadn't been in decades—working with his mentor, Roy Johnson, building pizzas again. The experience reminded him of all the reasons he loved working at Enrico's—the camradarie, the excitement, the people.
"It was awesome," Spielmann said. "This is the best place I've ever worked. … It was just like old times."
Now with the dining room empty, D'Ercole stood on a chair in front of the pull-down screen in the lounge to give a toast. He toasted the customers still lingering. He toasted the employees, from those who worked in the restaurant's early days to those who were just now untying aprons and sitting down for the first time that night. He toasted his parents, who started the business. And finally, he lifted his wine glass to his brother, Bob, who was perched with a video camera on the other side of the room, and said:
"We did it, brother. Thirty-eight years. We're closing tonight and looking to the future."
With that, D'Ercole was back to floating around the room, back among his family—those who were members by blood and those who were members by loyalty.
Editor's note: D'Ercole has yet to announce where Enrico's new location will be. Employees have been informing customers that a few locations are being considered, and the restaurant should reopen in about six months.
Memories of Enrico's Winners
These three individuals each win a gift bag from Enrico's, which includes bottles of wine and other merchandise from the restaurant.
Linda Porick shared this memory on Enrico's Facebook page: "I don't even know how to start this post. Dennis and I have been coming to Enrico's for about 35 years. Our two daughters have been raised at Enrico's . . . from high chairs in the dining room, to Halloween dinners after Trick or Treating (complete with costumes). When they hit high school, they didn't want to come as much for several reasons . . . Homework, busy schedules, and the fact that every time we would come to the restaurant, I would see one or more of my current/former students from Lincoln-way and they felt left out. Dennis and I have fond memories of Tom and CC Nessinger's last suppers in the train before leaving for Arizona for the winter, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire programs on the BIG screen in the Lounge, New Years Eve, Mardi GRAS, Super Bowls and everything in between. When our girls went to college, we would be at the restaurant so often that Harry Sr. would stop by our table and say, "Well, I guess we can have a stock holder's meeting.". Friends have often asked if we have a brass plaque with our name on it on a booth in the lounge. I know we are not the only people who have been that loyal to Enrico's and the D'Ercole family . . . a credit to everything their mission statement stands for. … Dennis and I are out of the country while the "last night" is going on. Probably a good thing since I would be in tears. Thank you is not enough to you, Harry, your family, and your fantastic staff. We are hoping that there will be a Grand Opening soon! It would not be Frankfort without Enrico's!!!!!"
The other two winners— and —had their memories included below.
Thanks to everyone who entered and continue to share your memories in the comments section.
The following story originally was published Aug. 15
Talk about , and almost immediately, the word "family" is mentioned.
Maybe it has to do with the D'Ercole family, who has run this Frankfort institution for almost 40 years now. Or maybe it's used to describe the restaurant's atmosphere. A lot of the times, however, it's combination of the two, a way to indicate how customers feel when they come to Enrico's. Like they're part of some big, happy family.
Many of those family members are getting together Wednesday night to say goodbye to Enrico's at its current location. , residents have logged a lot of memorable hours at Enrico's. Frankfort Patch and Enrico's asked customers to share some of their favorite memories (), and I've collected some of my favorites from the comments section and Enrico's Facebook page as well as from recent video interviews I did.
I will also be out at Enrico's to live blog the last night. Come back later Wednesday night to see photos from the restaurant and find out who's dropping by.
Memories of Enrico's
From reader : "My husband and I don't have one special memory. We have many! We've had date night every Thursday night at Enrico's since 1998. Mary Zeller, our server, and the other Thursday night regulars have become friends and a part of our week that we look forward to. Thursday was the night we could set all our other concerns and worries aside and just go have a great meal with good company. Today is our last Thursday for a long while.:
From reader : "My favorite memory of Enrico's is, of course, the train cars! I can recall as a child hoping that my family and I would get seated in the train cars for dinner and be SO excited when we did! I sure hope that Enrico's chooses its new location quickly, as I really need to get my fettuccine Alfredo fix!?
From Enrico's Facebook fan Teresa Stinnett: "There are so many favorite memories but I have to say my all time favorite is 'Ladies Night' every Thursday evening back in the day. Marian Glunz, Arlene Santoro and I went almost every Thursday and met with so many friends and neighbors. Many laughs & great discussions always topped off with a Chocolate chip banshi. pina colada or watermelon drink and we were good to go! Thanks Harry and your wonderful generous family for providing good times and great food always!"
From reader : "I was introduced to Enrico's when I started dating my future husband 11 years ago. His family, the Skwiruts, had been dining there from the very beginning. We have many special memories there, but the most recent one will stay with me forever. When my father-in-law, Jerry Skwirut, passed away in April, Harry showed up at my mother-in-law's door that same night with a pizza from Enrico's. That's the true meaning of a family restaurant."
From reader : "We have so many memories of Enrico's. We have made so many friends over the years since we have been coming since before we were married in 1979. We used to sit in the small booth by the door before they remodeled. We are also Thursday night regulars with Mary Zeller and have enjoyed seeing our friends there each week. We have had January and June birthday parties there as well as some Christmas parties as special occasions but after thinking about all of the memories we have there is one that I think sums up Enrico's as a family restaurant with good food. It was a January birthday party with family and Mr D came and sat down next to my father-in-law Raymond Biegel (who was in his late 80's) and they talked about life, family and food for probably 15 minutes. It was great to see them both laughing and enjoying life and my FIL never forgot about that. As Mr D. always said, 'take your time and enjoy life.' We are looking forward to seeing Enrico's at their new location."
You also should check out this personal blog entry about Enrico's written by reader .
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