Save the Choo-Choo

Campaign starts to preserve Des Plaines burger landmark

How irresistible is the Choo-Choo restaurant in Des Plaines?

For 57 years, a model train has delivered food to hungry patrons.

“Trains go fast, and that’s how we wanted our customers to be served,” founder James Ballowe once said.

"People come from everywhere for the Choo-Choo,” current owner Jean Paxton tells the Sun-Times.

But now the property the Choo-Choo sits in is being eyed by city officials as the possible site of a new police station.

Mayor Tony Arredia has already “suggested Paxton consider moving the Choo-Choo to the new Metropolitan Square development, but Paxton refused,” the Sun-Times reports.

"At Metropolitan Square, I'd be part of a strip mall," Paxton said. "It just won't be the same."

CBS2 reports that Paxton “intends to fight the development plan and has put up a sign urging people to help by visiting”

A history of the restaurant at the site notes that an early competitor was McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.

“James Ballowe was just sure that he would be able to beat out the hamburger joint dubbed McDonald’s, because of the novelty of the train,” the site says. “He also donned the proper attire: an engineer’s cap, red bandanna around his neck, and a whistle he would blow whenever he sent the train around. And according to Marilyn, Ray Kroc didn’t think his restaurant would surpass the business the Ballowes’ were getting. He even paid the Ballowes’ a visit and reassured them that his restaurant would be no competition. He told them, ‘I don’t have a place for people to sit down’.”

The Choo-Choo’s official site notes that the restaurant seats 45 – “27 along the tracks.”

(Here’s the train in action.)

“Another recent visitor was Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood, one of his children and his in-laws,” the Des Plaines Journalreports.

“I'm in the Chicago area for a few days, and found on my arrival that the legendary Choo-Choo Restaurant in Des Plaines (just down the street and around the corner from our condo) is in danger of being razed to make room for a new police station,” Jeff Dutnemann writes at his ContraPositive Diary. “There's a Web site for gathering protest and forwarding it to the City of Des Plaines, which apparently can either raze the Choo-Choo or the defunct Masonic temple across the street. I don't quite understand why that's a hard decision."

Leslie’s Omnibus is also directing readers to the petition.

“If you live in or near Des Plaines, you know that The Choo Choo is a tradition in town. Seems our wonderful mayor has designs on that particular piece of real estate, and wants tear the building down.

“Stop by here and give him a piece of your mind, will ya? Even better, stop by and have a bite to eat. You'll be glad you did!”

And the blog from the Des Plaines Public Library notes that the Choo-Choo is one of the town’s “everyday treasures.”


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