Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, Hinsdale, Illinois, USA
“Get Your Chicks on Route 66” is the current slogan of this historic roadside restaurant that–no surprise–specializes in the tasty bird. Located just 15 miles from downtown Chicago along historic Route 66 in Hinsdale, Illinois, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket tempts the hungry traveler with its special recipe of fried chicken served up in a historic Route 66 atmosphere. This establishment also stands out as an impressive example of survival along the Mother Road.
The Chicken Basket began in the 1930s as a mere lunch counter attached to a service station in then rural Hinsdale. This mix and match of functions was typical for Route 66 establishments, which often operated on very thin profit margins that allowed them to be creative in attracting customers. Legend has it that in the late 1930s two local farm women offered a deal to the original owner, Irv Kolarik, who was looking to expand his food menu. They would reveal their excellent fried chicken recipe to Mr. Kolarik and his customers if he would promise to buy the necessary chickens from them. To sweeten the deal, the women offered to teach him how to actually fry the chicken. Soon, the service station was history and the Chicken Basket was born.
The restaurant’s current site is adjacent to the location of the old 1930s lunch counter/service. It was established at a very special time for Route 66. Built in 1946, the new Chicken Basket opened its doors just as Jack D. Rittenhouse was putting the finishing touches on his now famous travelogue, A Guide Book to Highway 66, a publication that heralded the great postwar boom in business and travel all along Route 66.
Architect Eugene F. Stoyke, who designed several residences and commercial buildings in the vicinity, is also responsible for this one-story brick building constructed in the no-nonsense, utilitarian commercial style of the immediate postwar period. Over all, the restaurant retains much of its original 1946 appearance. The exterior walls are common bond brick, and on the east façade is a continuous window bay holding nine original, single light glass and wood canted windows. A canvas awning typical of the period covers the entire window bay. The restaurant has a flat, steel roof that did double duty in the 1950s. To attract customers, Mr. Kolarik flooded the roof in winter and hired youths to ice skate on top of the building! The large dining room has painted brick walls, carpeted floors, and its original drywall ceiling. A cocktail lounge, added in 1956 as business continued to boom, retains its original bar and diagonal and vertical wood paneling. In front of the building stands the original neon and metal sign.
Like so many successful businesses along Route 66, the Chicken Basket faced a serious challenge when the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 mandated the Federal Interstate Highway System. Although the restaurant had flourished since 1949, the coming of the four lane, limited access to I-55 in Hinsdale and in 1962 quickly siphoned off traffic and customers from Route 66. Business plummeted, and in that very same year a local bank foreclosed on the property. The Chicken Basket managed to escape the fate of so many other establishments along the Mother Road in the age of the interstate. In 1963, Delbert (Dell) Rhea, a savvy Chicago businessman, purchased the restaurant and turned things around through aggressive advertising aimed at Chicago’s expanding suburban population as well as travelers. Today, the restaurant flourishes under the direction of his son, Patrick Rhea. Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is a must visit landmark along historic Illinois Route 66. The restaurant was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in May 2006.
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is located on 645 Joliet Rd., Willowbrook (Hinsdale), IL at the intersection of Rt. 83 and I-55. The restaurant is closed Mondays and open Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday, 11:00am to 9:00pm, Friday and Saturday 11:00am to 10:00pm. The Blue Rooster Lounge is open every day except Monday and features live music and events.
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