Eighty Years of Service, Three Generations of Catering

by Reema Abi-Akar

Barrack’s Cater Inn offers personalized service and long-standing experience to the Peoria area and beyond.

Eighty years ago, the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. Prohibition had come to an end, and Americans huddled around their radios listening intently to President Roosevelt’s fireside chats. Even as the national unemployment rate reached 25 percent, with businesses failing left and right, a small, family-owned eatery north of Peoria opened its doors for the first time. Though its name and location would change over the years, the Chillicothe Confectionary, founded by Jim and Mary Barrack, laid the foundation for three generations of success in business.

Since 1933, the Barrack family has provided exemplary food service to Peoria and the surrounding area. Today, Barrack’s Cater Inn remains a staple of the community, having gained local and even national acclaim for its services.

Over the Years
Throughout its long history, the business has demonstrated a knack for adaptability, transforming itself time and time again. The Chillicothe Confectionary lasted from 1933 to 1935, followed by the Perry Snack Shop, which stuck around until 1940. Then came the Peoria Diner, one of the area’s most popular restaurants during the ‘40s. “That was a railroad boxcar that was turned into a diner,” says Jim Barrack, president and CEO of Barrack’s Cater Inn and grandson of its founders. “It was pretty famous at the time.”

As a child, Richard Barrack, Jim’s father, spent a lot of time behind the counter at Peoria Diner. He started at a young age, helping out in the kitchen, “washing dishes standing on the top of soda boxes,” he remembers. Throughout his teenage years, he continued to contribute to the family business.

After a short-lived stint as Campus Grill, the Barracks opened Mary and Jim’s Restaurant in 1952, and it became a fixture of local dining for more than two decades. “Mary and Jim’s was a very popular restaurant on Liberty Street,” Jim recalls. “My father joined the business at that time… went to chef training school and started doing some catering from the restaurant. [He] really enjoyed… the creativity and presentation of that type of business.” In 1957, the elder Jim Barrack passed away, and Richard, just 20 years old, took over the business. Soon he began to make the shift toward “off-premise” catering.

“A neighbor girl asked me if I would [cater] her wedding reception at Willow Knolls Country Club,” Richard says. “So I went in there and set up my buffet and had an ice carving for her, and they were pleased. I stayed with Willow Knolls Country Club for their monthly dinner dances and anything special that came up. And that’s how the catering started.” By 1974, business was booming, and the family decided to close the restaurant to focus exclusively on catering.

The same year, they invested in a small kitchen on North Knoxville they called the Cater Inn, hiring additional workers as it expanded. Several years later, Richard’s son, Jim, joined the business, following in the footsteps of his father and grandparents. “I started working with my father at a very young age, and then joined it full-time in 1982,” explains Jim.

And the business continued to grow. “We both had the desire to take it one step [further]… and open up our own banquet facility,” Jim continues. “In 1987, we purchased the building on Pioneer Parkway and transformed it into Peoria’s first banquet facility. We’ve been at the Pioneer Parkway location for 26 years now, and over that time we’ve grown dramatically.” In 1996, Richard finally retired after 40 years in the business, leaving a strong legacy for future generations.

The Customer’s Choice
Today, Barrack’s is a very familiar presence in the Peoria area. After starting out at the Knoxville location with three events a week, the business now averages five or six events each day. “We cater all different types of events, [from] simple box lunches to hot meals,” Jim explains. For larger events, Barrack’s is more involved, bringing in decorations, table settings, china, a full staff and a hot buffet. “We do events for $5 a person; we do events for $50 a person,” Jim adds. “There’s a myriad of options, from very simple to very elegant.” Whatever the occasion, Barrack’s lets the customer decide the details.

In addition to in-house catering at the Cater Inn, the business serves a range of locations, including private residences, large tents for company picnics, and other banquet facilities, such as Ravina on the Lakes, Stoney Creek Inn and the Gateway Building. “The majority of our business is in central Illinois, but we have catered events [where we] travel an hour, hour and a half away,” Jim says. “That’s an advantage we have—just being able to offer our clients options on venues,” Jim stresses. “It also enables us to do multiple events in a day. That’s why our team consists of about 50-plus employees.”

Timeless Commitment to Service
Since the very beginning, the Barrack family has pledged dedication to its customers. “It’s all about providing outstanding service and good food,” Jim says. “We frequently get requests from our clients, [such as] requests of certain staff that they know and worked with. We’re a very labor-intensive type of business, so you have to… have a great team. That’s the key to producing successful events… having a great staff.”

Over the past quarter-century, Barrack’s Cater Inn has been honored with more than 40 different awards and recognitions. For nine straight years, readers of the Journal Star voted Barrack’s the best banquet facility in its annual Reader’s Choice Awards. Nationally, it’s been featured in National Catering Today and Inc. Magazine, and has twice been a finalist for Catersource magazine’s annual Achievement in Catering Excellence Award for the Midwest region. Most recently, the Peoria Riverfront Museum selected Barrack’s Cater Inn as its primary catering provider.

Barrack’s also hosts a number of clubs and service organizations each month, and for his part, Jim recently completed a term as president of the Rotary Club of Peoria - North, which meets there every Thursday. The business also supports a number of local charities, including Heart of Illinois Harvest and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It hosts the annual Pasta Party for St. Jude, which raised $10,000 last year through raffles, door prizes and donations.

Still carrying on the family tradition eight decades after the tiny Chillicothe Confectionary got its start, Jim Barrack says it all comes down to serving the customer and benefiting the community. “[We’re] helping to create memorable events for clients, whether it’s a simple business meeting or wedding receptions, anniversaries, birthday parties,” he explains. “We really enjoy working with the clients.” iBi

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