Customers feel at home at Prairie House Tavern
Gary Gilliam, the general manager for the Prairie House Tavern in Buffalo Grove, holds up a barbeque pulled-pork sandwich plate in the restaurant. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 11, 2013 1:57AM
BUFFALO GROVE — While searching for the words to explain his actions, Jim Blake turns his palms up and shrugs. Then he takes a look around the Prairie House Tavern, and the electrician knows why he gave general manager Gary Gilliam his labor for free.
“It’s my bar,” Blake said. “I drink here.”
This bar, like Blake’s reasoning, is pure and efficient, two traits that helped Gilliam and his staff earn the highest honor from the Greater Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce. At its annual awards banquet Tuesday, the GLCC named Prairie House its Business of the Year out of a field of four nominees.
“We’ve come a long way,” Gilliam said of winning the award. “Growing the business, remodeling the building, getting active in the community. All the hard work is being rewarded.”
The hard work centered on converting the 2,900-square-foot building, which sat vacant for two years when Jerry’s Super Club closed, into a half-restaurant, half-sports-bar with hamburgers, pizza, ribs, salads, wraps and sandwiches. Seating 86 indoors and 30 on the deck, the renovated old house across Main Street from Metra’s Prairie View station is now the sponsor of six local youth-league teams, and the kind of place where customers do some of the maintenance and improvements themselves.
The owners, real estate agents Ron and Rick Hansen, saw an opportunity about eight years ago, when public works crews widened this section of Main Street and added parking while Metra upgraded its entire station. With a new influx of potential customers, the father-and-son team saw an opportunity to bring an eatery back at the Jerry’s location, which they opened in January 2006.
“Initially, it was the challenge of making it a successful business,” Gilliam said. “Now, the challenge is making it even better.
“I have an incredible staff,” he added. “The respect that I feel here, both for my staff and from the people, it’s irreplaceable.”
As he spoke, he sat on a wood bench made by regular customer Bruce Davis, who had just left the Wrigley Field-decorated bar moments earlier. In that bar at that moment, though, sat Blake, who had solved a problem for Gilliam for free only days before.
Gilliam had been putting the Christmas lights up, and found that the plug he was trying to connect them to had gone bad. Blake went out to his truck, got his equipment and went to work.
“He had to replace the entire socket,” Gilliam recalled.
And he did it, Blake said with his shrug, to support his bar.
“I bought him a beer,” Gilliam said.