After 57 years as a Chicago institution, treasured diner Jeri’s Grill is permanently closed in Lincoln Square because of the coronavirus pandemic. Open 24 hours per day for nearly six decades, the legendary restaurant was the epitome of a no-frills dinner. On Sunday, a coffee mug, with a leaf of lettuce and a fork and knife taped together like a cross, was left in front of the door as a makeshift memorial at the corner of Montrose and Western.
Equipped with a straightforward selection of diner classics such as patty melts, biscuits and gravy, milkshakes, and hash browns, Jeri’s Grill was prized for its ambiance as much as its comforting menu items. Its longtime staff were beloved neighborhood figures, and its soups were sought-after by those in the know. For many, the restaurant was a landmark to return to at significant moments in their lives, after high school parties, weddings, and graduations — one fixed point in an ever-changing universe. Much of Chicago’s hospitality industry found comfort in the restaurant as it remained open late night after their restaurants and bar shifts were over.
Owner Frank Di Piero, who inherited the business from his father, announced the closure with a sign posted on the front door at 4357 N. Western Avenue. “Jeri’s Grill was a part of the past living in a modern world,” he writes. “Unfortunately the past can no longer survive in this post pandemic world...if these walls could talk they would tell beautiful and sad stories of many lives.”
Sadly Jeri’s Grill is closing. They were exactly the sort of analog gem that couldn’t find a way to shine in the digital work. These are the sort of mom and pop joints that fed seniors who lived alone, gave them a… https://t.co/CaEMJnl5t9— Margaret & John (@Lostfoundtravel) May 10, 2020
In an interview with WGN, Di Piero says the restaurant is his heart and soul, but he can’t see a path forward for Jeri’s with social distancing and severely limited dining room capacity. Other independent restaurant owners who have permanently closed their businesses express a similar sentiment: Jeanne Roeser, owner of popular breakfast and brunch business Toast for 24 years, says she can’t imagine her petite dining rooms capped at half-capacity or less. It’s among the reasons she won’t reopen, even after Illinois’s stay-at-home order is lifted.
Longtime fans and neighbors have expressed sadness about Jeri’s Grill’s closure, posting appreciative notes and signs to the restaurant door. Someone even left a tribute in the form of a fork and knife taped together to form a cross, accompanied by a coffee mug and hunk of lettuce. The news has also ricocheted across social media, with longtime fans sharing heartbreak at the loss, favorite memories from the diner, and plentiful ham-on-the-bone jokes. Even celebrities are feeling the sting: Laura Jane Grace of punk band Against Me! tweeted about the closure. A GoFundMe was set up to help support the diner’s 12 employees, with a goal of $5,000.