Fishermen’s Inn finished
For 45 years, restaurant drew customers from near and far
by Martha Quetsch
ELBURNâ€”For more than four decades, Fishermen’s Inn in Elburn was a popular place for fine dining and receptions, attracting people from throughout the Chicago area with its fresh trout, scenic grounds and country atmosphere. The tradition ended Dec. 21 when the restaurant closed because of a decrease in customers in recent years.
Clifford Spence, Fishermen’s Inn president since 2005, said the economic downturn and competition from new restaurants in the area were the reasons for the closure.
â€œThere was a steady decline in business in the last two years,â€ Spence said. â€œEvery time a new place opened, our business dropped.â€
Spence said he found out that Fishermen’s Inn was closing on Dec. 21, from officials at Old Second Bank, which oversaw a trust that owned the business.
â€œBasically, the business was dissolved,â€ said Spence, who worked for Fishermen’s Inn for 11 years.
Spence said the drop-off in customers started in spring of 2008, coinciding with the start of the economic recession. Fishermen’s Inn’s banquet business, which brought in one-third of the restaurant’s revenue, began to suffer as people scaled back on the size of wedding receptions and other gatherings.
By fall of that year, the situation had worsened.
â€œWe had five cancelled weddings in one month (November 2008).â€
Spence said more cancellations took place as people’s uncertainty about the economy heightened.
Among the many local people who frequented Fishermen’s Inn over the years and regret its closure is former Elburn dentist and village president, Jim Willey. Willey said he attended countless business and government gatherings at the restaurant during the 30 years he lived in Elburn.
Fishermen’s Inn also had a strong regional draw.
â€œPeople came from all over. It really had a landmark status,â€ Willey said. â€œI think they liked that it was really different.â€
Fishermen’s Inn opened in 1964 in a renovated barn on Main Street Road just west of Route 47. Its founder, Orville Mercer, installed ponds behind the restaurant and stocked holding tanks with trout. The fresh fish became a restaurant specialty.
Mercer also created walkways around the ponds, where people could take a stroll on the grounds after dinner or while waiting for a reservation. Many people found Fishermen’s Inn to be a perfect place for weddings because of its picturesque setting.
Willey recalled his sister’s wedding reception there 20 years ago.
â€œIt was a really nice place to have it,â€ Willey said. â€œThe guests could go and walk around the ponds and the weeping willows.â€
Aside from going to many meetings and receptions at Fishermen’s Inn, Willey often went there for dinner with his wife Cathy. He remembers one evening, while they were enjoying a meal and the view from the broad back windows, a customer jumped off the balcony into the pond and disappeared. The fire department brought divers to the scene to look for the man, who as it happened, dove in on a lark and left the scene unseen.
When his wife passed away in 2007, Willey decided to hold a memorial dinner for her at the restaurant.
â€œIt was one of our favorite places, so it was an easy choice,â€ Willey said.
Willey remembers something that longtime Fishermen’s Inn manager Dick Walt would always tell customers as he regaled them with funny stories:
â€œHe would say, ‘You may leave here a little taller, but no wider.’â€
Fishermen’s Inn History
â€¢Â Orville Mercer and his family started Fishermen’s Inn at 43W901 Main Street Road, Elburn, in 1964, in a renovated barn built in 1898. The Mercers lived in a house across the street.
â€¢Â In 1972, the Mercers sold Fishermen’s Inn to Ralph and Ann Schleifer of Kaneville. The Schleifers later built a home in the woods behind Fisherman’s Inn.
â€¢Â The Schleifers broke ground in June 1985 for a new banquet facility seating 200, to complement Fishermen’s Inn’s barn restaurant.
â€¢Â A fire caused $1.4 million in damage to Fishermen’s Inn in October 1985. The blaze took firefighters nearly 24 hours to extinguish, burned the barn beyond repair and caused extensive smoke and water damage to the new banquet facility. As a result, the restaurant closed.
â€¢Â In fall of 1986, Fishermen’s Inn reopened, after the Schleifers built a new barn and repaired damage to the banquet facility during the summer.
â€¢Â Following Ralph Schleifer’s death in 2005, Fishermen’s Inn was turned over to a trust at Old Second Bank, which named restaurant employee Clifford Spence as president of the business.
â€¢Â Fishermen’s Inn closed Dec. 21, 2009.
Photo: The rustic, scenic setting of Fisherman’s Inn in Elburn was part of its attraction as a place for weddings, private dinners and other social gatherings since 1964. Photo by Martha Quetsch