After more than 30 years, restaurant owner Ed Tefka is hanging up his hat. He opened Fast Track on the corner of Lake and Desplaines streets in the West Loop in 1991.
"I saw an opportunity for myself and a need for the neighborhood," said Tefka.
At the time, the neighborhood was mostly manufacturing and wholesale. A recent residential boom and the pandemic ultimately forced Tefka to make some tough decisions.
"There's no question the neighborhood is tremendously changing," said Tefka.
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"With residential coming to replace the manufacturing people, the numbers were simply less. COVID has certainly played some role. We still don’t have office workers at CTA, which is a block away; social security, which is a block and a half away," he said. [It's] really put a damper on small businesses like us."
Patrons poured in Wednesday to enjoy a final "char dog" and fresh cut fries, and to say thank you to longtime staff.
"I love the hugs from [Chef} Kleo," said Ronnie Klein, who's been a customer for more than 20 years. "I’m very sad."
"It's terrible," said Phil Cook. "Sad."
"I’m crying because they’re leaving me," said customer Cherry Quinn.
Quinn, who has cancer, has been eating at Fast Track for 20 years. She said the friendly staff always put her in a good mood.
"This guy boosted my spirits every time I had chemo," she said, gesturing to a longtime cook.
It's unclear what will happen to the memorabilia inside, including the popular toy train that runs along the ceiling.
"We'll find a good home for that," said Tefka, who also owns the Fulton-Desplaines Garage in the area.
He is planning to donate some things to the Illinois Railway Museum.
The property has been sold to a developer. Tefka said it will likely become a residential building.
Although it's the end of an era and the business is closing, Tefka said Fast Track will always be family.
"Even if you move on, you stay in touch with family. And that’s what our people are," he said.