The Fireplace Inn was first opened for business in 1968 by 2 Chicago natives during the height of the civil rights movement. During that time Old Town Chicago served as the epicenter for the development of the hippie subculture in the mid-west.
Jim Novak (brother of Dick Novak) was working the night shift as a manager for the restaurant. After less than a year, Jim was approached by the owners and was asked if he would be interested in buying the business. Jim then proposed the opportunity to his brother Dick. During that time Dick was married with 3 children and was working as a sales man selling heavy machinery to steel mills and automotive manufacturing plants. The financial risk to buy the business was substantial but they both knew that the window of opportunity would only be open for a short time. Both Dick and Jim were passionate about the food, especially the Barbecue Baby Back Ribs and the two decided to buy the business. They took over operations of The Fireplace Inn on May 1st of 1969 under the Novak family name. Before they took over, Dick and Jim decided to modify the Barbecue Sauce to give it a sweeter, more refined and full flavored taste.
In November of 1969 Dick and Jim were approached by the owners of Lastrada, an Italian restaurant that was located down the street from The Fireplace Inn. The owners of Lastrada asked Dick and Jim if they would be interested in buying their business. They both agreed and went on to assume ownership of Lastrada. In February of 1970, they re-opened it as a Mexican restaurant called El Conquistador. El Conquistador was open for 2 years until they closed its doors and re-opened it as The Courtyard Inn in February of 1972. The Courtyard Inn followed suit with similar menu items as The Fireplace Inn. It’s menu featured specialties such as the famous Barbecue Baby Back Ribs, as well as the Courtyard Potato Special (which both still exist on The Fireplace Inn menu today).
After The Courtyard Inn was opened, Dick decided to quit his sales job and devote himself entirely to his businesses. Dick became the full-time manager at The Courtyard Inn while Jim kept managing The Fireplace Inn. In 1974 the family opened 2 Courtyard Inn restaurants in the Miami, Florida area. Jim decided to move down to Florida to manage both Courtyard Inn restaurants, while Dick stayed in Old Town to manage both restaurants on Wells street in Chicago.
During that time Old Town served as an entertainment district for Chicago. Head shops, strip clubs, and comedy clubs including The Second City were all a part of the scene. Old Town also became the center of Folk Music in Chicago. Singer-Songwriters such as Bob Gibson, Steve Goodman, Bonnie Koloc and John Prine all helped shaped the folk music scene associating themselves with the infamous Old Town School of Folk Music. Bob Dylan, Steve Miller and Jimi Hendrix also played on Wells street during the late 60’s and early 70’s contributing their parts to the rich musical history of the area.
The years following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King included a tense racial divide throughout the 70’s in Chicago. The two restaurants struggled to stay afloat but managed financially. Dick’s children: Chad, Ky and Tara grew into their own and were raised in the restaurant’s surroundings. Busy cooks, food servers, and bus boys ingrained in their memories; the time they were in the restaurants represented the quality time they would spend with their Dad.
In 1980 The Fireplace Inn began to get involved with the summer festival scene. The family would gather friends and relatives to provide the workforce needed to make the festivals a success. 1980 also marked the very first year of The Taste of Chicago in which The Fireplace Inn was a part of. The family business was a part of as many as 3 festivals per week working events such as the Chicago Blues Festival and the Chicago Jazz Festival. The Fireplace Inn also joined festivals in the suburbs of Chicago such as the Naperville Last Fling and the Downers Grove Heritage Festival. The newly opened Zanies Comedy Club provided a much-needed economical boost to Wells street in Old Town. Now Zanies Chicago attracts some of the best comedic talent from all over the world. Zanies Comedy Club is still located just steps away from The Fireplace Inn to this day.
In September of 1983 Dick closed the doors of The Courtyard Inn due to economic conditions and moved himself to The Fireplace Inn to takeover managing the restaurant full time. Dick also met his life partner Sandy during this time and the two formed a bond that would last the next 28 years. Sandy would help out where she was needed and was indeed a part of the family business.
The mid 80’s marked the beginning of the upswing for The Fireplace Inn and Old Town, Chicago. Racial tensions in the area started to subside, and business became better than ever. Right through the 90’s The Fireplace Inn remained a staple restaurant for Chicago’s best ribs.
In 1999 Dick purchased an adjacent piece of land next door and turned it into an Outdoor Café addition to The Fireplace Inn. In 2005 Dick’s children convinced him to transform the Outdoor Café into a Sports Bar Patio.
Sadly, Dick’s life partner of 28 years: Sandy Byrnes passed away on December 5th of 2009. A memorial service was held at The Fireplace Inn in Sandy’s honor. Memories of Sandy’s incredible baking will never be erased from both the employee’s and customer’s minds. She often treated them to cookies, cakes, and other sweet treats on weekends, especially during Sunday football games.
Today, Dick’s children: Chad, Ky and Tara are managing operations at The Fireplace Inn full-time. Dick gets to focus on his Golfing without the aggravation of running the restaurant. In 2010 the children spearheaded the remodeling of the Dining Room transforming it into a more casual atmosphere while still maintaining its ambience of the past. The Fireplace Inn will continue into the future with the reputation for serving the best barbecue ribs in Chicago since 1969.
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