Passing Tradition and Serving Food

Traditions and heirlooms are often passed down from generation to generation. Great grandmother's wedding ring, grandpa's military medals, or that recipe for the dessert you make every Christmas Eve have passed through many hands and seen many years. Some families pass down more than artifacts, though, instead passing along an entire restaurant to a son or daughter to be continued in their family's name.

Continuing the Tradition
Todd Hohulin, owner and chef of 2Chez, is one of those hopeful parents. He is the first generation in the restaurant business-but will tell you that's not entirely true. He grew up watching his grandma cook and spending time in her and his parents' gardens. That's where he found his passion for cooking, and today, his 14-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son watch him in the kitchen of their own family-owned restaurant. They occasionally come in to help host, seat and bus tables, but it's his son who seems to be most interested in the business. "He'll hopefully be involved in the future, but that's up to him," said Hohulin. "I'm not pushing it, but if they want, I would love to have them help me out."

John Waugh is a son who stepped into his father's shoes and took over the family business when he became president of Waugh Foods, Inc. in 1999. He was appointed by his father, but worked his way up, along with two other brothers and two brothers-in-law. "We all worked summers. I worked summers in the warehouse, driving trucks. We all did our thing and worked our way up through the business," he noted.

Daryl Klusendorf had to work his way up as well, but he didn't originally do it at his parents' restaurant, Sky Harbor Steakhouse. Instead, after graduating from Bradley University, he went to work at the Peoria Elks Club. For two years, he was a chef and food services manager before he came to work for his parents, Ellen and Bill. Today, Daryl carries on the tradition of his parents' hard work and continues, with his wife Rebecca, to manage the day-to-day operations of Sky Harbor Steakhouse.

Paving the Way
But if it were not for the parents and grandparents who paved the way, there would be no shoes to step into or ladders to climb. Waugh's father began Waugh Foods with one truck of frozen vegetables that he delivered to grocery stores. In the early 1960s, he expanded the business to supply restaurants, schools and hospitals with food. Today, Waugh has seen his father's business grow from 12 employees, when he began full-time, to 76, with a distribution radius around Peoria of 120 miles.

After 38 years of business, Sky Harbor Steakhouse has evolved and changed since its conception, but its creators' history goes back even further. In 1956, Ellen and Bill Klusendorf partnered with another couple to "bring sizzling steaks and casual fine dining to Peoria." This popular restaurant was called the Lariat Club. In the late ‘60s, the Klusendorfs sold the Lariat to the current owners, Lou and Ed Kouri, but they were not out of the restaurant business for long, as they purchased what would become Sky Harbor in 1971. Originally located adjacent to the Peoria airport, Ellen and Bill took advantage of their unique location and created "The Skydeck" on the building's roof of the building so that diners could watch the planes land and take off. While airport construction forced the restaurant to relocate to West Peoria in 1996, the aeronautic feel continues, with much of the aviation memorabilia remaining, and Mrs. Klusendorf still greets and seats her guests whenever she is in town.

Todd Waldschmidt, manager of Jonah's Seafood House and son of owner Terry Waldschmidt, has also seen his father's business grow and evolve. Terry began his restaurant business in Peoria with a place called Cock-A-Doodle-Doo, and before long, he had built a second restaurant on a beach in Florida, where he had gone to school. But when two restaurants in different parts of the country became too much, he sold the Florida establishment and transformed the Peoria restaurant into The Fish House.

After working for about a decade with his brother, Gary, at The Fish House, the two parted ways, and Jonah's was created from the shell of an old, abandoned building called the Sea Merchant. Today, Terry's son and son-in-law manage the premises and have seen Jonah's grow in popularity, including the addition of the adjoining Oyster Bar. And Terry does not mind relinquishing some of the hard work, explaining, "It takes a lot of pressure off me as the owner. I have two very strong managers...[and] they are family."

That Unique Hook
While restaurants are often works in progress, evolving over time, for Daryl Klusendorf, consistency is key. "We pretty much stick to our format," he explained. "I think Peoria is a meat-and-potatoes town. It's more than that, but we are the heart of the Midwest, and everybody kind of builds on their strengths-and the strengths of this area are our beef and pork, so that is the basis of our menu. Stay true to the concept, 'If it isn't broke, don't fix it.'"

A distinctive menu is usually the hook that will snare customers, and for Gary Waldschmidt's restaurant, that would be seafood. Justin Waldschmidt, Gary's son and general manager of The Fish House, believes a seafood restaurant in the middle of the continental U.S. sets them apart. "I think seafood was kind of a unique venture in '76," he said. "I don't think there were any other seafood places in town. Now, when you go out to dinner, a lot of restaurants have a seafood thing or two, but back then, I don't think most restaurants even had a seafood option."

What is significant for all of these restaurants is that they are each one-of-a-kind-not cookie-cutter chains in a large corporation, but small, locally-owned businesses run by family. For Justin, he likes being able to run ideas, recipes or problems past his dad when Gary comes into work in the morning. He is Justin's trusted mentor, as well as his father. The food business as a family business also provides John Waugh with that extra father-son time. "I think it's been one of the neatest relationships a son can ever have. My dad is great to work for, a great boss and a great dad."

Finding the Balance
The restaurant business is not always so selfless with its time, as Todd Hohulin understands from running 2Chez. As the owner and chef, he's usually the first to arrive and the last to leave. "When everybody else wants to go out and have a good time, those are the hours you are working," he said. Like many small business owners, he also wears more hats than just those two titles. He is the repairman when something breaks, the mediator in large decisions, and part of the cleaning crew every morning.

With so many jobs within the business, it's often difficult to make time to be a father as well. "You give up a lot. As a father, I miss my kids' concerts sometimes," Hohulin lamented. That's why the Hohulins take time out of their busy days to put family first. For Todd, he leaves the restaurant in his employees' hands in the afternoons so he can hang out with his kids, and the family can always come to the restaurant to see him and eat dinner so his wife, Cyndi, doesn't have to cook.

Like Part of the Family
As these restaurants and food services know, running a family business is not easy. Sometimes there is too much family time and sometimes there is too little, but either way, the family tends to grow in size as the employees seem more and more like part of the family. "In a small restaurant, everybody becomes family," said Hohulin. "It's nice because my kids think of the employees-especially the ones that have been with us a long time-as family too."

Waugh has seen a similar trend in his business. "We get cards from people saying it's been great to feel like you are part of a larger family." And like so many things, this too has another aspect about which family businesses have to be mindful. Justin of The Fish House put it this way, "In a family business, it's definitely hard to separate the family from the business. It's everywhere. The business never leaves. You never really have a Christmas dinner without talking a little bit of business."

Like any other businesses, family businesses have their pros and cons, but the Peoria area is filled with family restaurants wanting and willing to serve their neighbors. As Waugh said, "There are so many good family businesses out there. We need more of them. It's a different feeling to work with a family business than some big corporation." iBi

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