Friday, August 29, 2014

IGNATZ & MARY'S GROVE INN - Ignatz and Mary Lafnitzegger

One of the most widely read articles I have done for this blog is the article I did about Fanny Bachechi, the owner of the world-famous Fanny's Restaurant in Evanston, Illinois.  Because of the popularity of that article I decided to write about another famous Chicago area restaurant, Ignatz and Mary's Grove Inn, and its owners, Ignatz and Mary Lafnitzegger.

Like Fanny's, Ignatz & Mary's is just a memory today, but for over 45 years it provided good food in pleasant surroundings to its customers. Note:  The official name of the restaurant was "Ignatz and Mary's Grove Inn" but I always heard it referred to as just "Ignatz and Mary's" so that's how I will refer to the restaurant in this article.

Ignatz Lafnitzegger was born September 15, 1904 in Buch bei, Hartberg, Styria, Austria, to Ignatz Lafnitzegger Sr (1880-????) and Juliana, nee Moik (1881-????).  I was not able to find out any information about possible siblings, except that his obituary mentioned a sister, Ann, who remained in Austria.  We do know that Ignatz came to the United States on October 27, 1922 when he was 18 years old.  He told the immigration authorities that he had been a farmhand in Austria and that his final destination was Chicago.

Ignatz Lafnitzegger married Theresa, nee Weber (1902-1934) on January 5, 1924 in Cook County, Illinois.  Their son Joseph Ignatz Lafnitzegger was born July 20, 1924 in Chicago.  More about him later.

Ignatz wasted no time in becoming a US citizen, taking the oath on June 8, 1928.  When he became a citizen the family was living at 6239 S. May Street in Chicago:

6239 S. May Street, Chicago

By the 1930 US Census, the Lafnitzegger family was living at 623 W. Wrightwood in Chicago where Ignatz listed his occupation as "janitor" in an "apartment building."  The building that Ignatz had lived in 623-631 W. Wrightwood was razed and replaced with a Chicago 4-plus-1 apartment building.

Theresa Weber Lafnitzegger died in 1934.  Other than that, I could not find any information about her death.  She was 31 years old.  She is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Evergreen Park, Illinois.

Photo by Maricass - used with permission

On May 23, 1937 Ignatz Lafnitzegger married again - this time his bride was Mary Josephine, nee Stadler (1916-2009) who had been born January 16, 1916 in Holy Cross, Wisconsin.  Mary was one of eleven children born to Dominic Stadler (1877-1960) and his wife Genefa Anne, nee Enstrasser (1883-1929).  Mary Josephine's siblings were: Francis Xavier (1910-1967), John Christopher (1911-2008),  Joseph (1913-1919), Anna Theresa (1914-1970), Loretta (1917-2009), Johanna (1919-1987), Alois (1920-2000), Rosalia (b. 1922), Alfons (1924-2010), and Bertha (1926-1928).  Dominic Stadler was a farmer by trade.

By the time of the 1940 US Census, the Lafnitzegger family was living at 5018 Lake Park Avenue in Chicago, where Ignatz, Mary and Joseph had been joined by a little addition:  Margaret (b. 1938).  5018 S. Lake Park Avenue is no longer there.  Ignatz listed his occupation as "shopkeeper" in an "antique store"; Mary was a "storekeeper" in a "retail grocery".

In addition to Margaret, Ignatz and Mary Lafnitzegger had two sons:  Frederick Alois (b. 1941), and Richard (b. 1956).

The year 1945 brought two events that would change the lives of Ignatz and Mary forever.  The Chicago Daily Tribune from May 19, 1945 carried the following sad story:

Pvt. Joseph I. Lafnitzegger, 20, son of Mr. & Mrs. Ignatz Lafnitzegger, of 834 W. Willow st., was killed in action on Luzon (Philippines) April 23.  also surviving are a sister and a brother.  There will be a memorial Mass at 9 a.m., Thursday, May 24, in St. Theresa Church, Kenmore and Armitage avs. 

Joseph Lafnitzegger is buried in the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines, but the family created a monument to him next to his mother in St. Mary's Cemetery, Evergreen Park, Illinois:

Photo by Maricass - Used with permission

There are new townhouses on the site of 834 W. Willow Street today.

The other life-changing event for that  Ignatz and Mary in 1945 was that they bought the restaurant on the northwest corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Euclid (Lake) Street in Wheeling, Illinois. There had been a restaurant on that site since the 1890s owned and operated by the Schufreider family.  In those days Milwaukee Avenue (US Route 45) was the main route people took by horse and then by car from Chicago to the northernmost parts of Illinois and southeast Wisconsin. Realizing that calling the restaurant "Lafnitzegger's" would be a mouthful, they wisely named the restaurant "Ignatz and Mary's Grove Inn."

From 1945 to 1987 the Lafnitzeggers delighted countless thousands of customers with their outstanding German food and atmosphere 364 days per year (Closed on Christmas).  In 1945, a trip to Ignatz and Mary's was a drive "out in the country" but by the 1980s the restaurant was in the middle of a booming commercial area of gas stations, hotels, and strip shopping centers.

Here's a view after the 1962 addition was added:

Long-time patrons of Ignatz and Mary's looked forward to the annual Schlachfest every October and the wild game dinner party each January.  Specialties of the house included sauerbraten with homemade red cabbage and roast duck.  Customers also raved about their delicious homemade pies and strudel. 

Here's a typical menu circa 1955:

Here's a view from the 1960s:

Ignatz and Mary ran the restaurant until their retirement in 1980 when their daughter Margaret and her husband Fritz Miller took over the day to day operations.  The Lafnitzeggers spent their retirement between homes in Arizona and Wisconsin.

The Chicago Tribune from September 14, 1987 brought the sad news of the death of Ignatz:

Mary followed in August of 2009:

Mary J. Lafnitzegger, age 93.

Beloved wife of the late Ignatz; loving mother of Margaret (Fritz) Miller, Frederick (Elizabeth) and Richard (Jane) and the late Robert Ignatz Lafnitzegger; devoted grandmother of 11, great-grandmother of 15; dear sister of Loretta Klus, Rosalia Bach, Alfons Stadler, and the late Frank, John and Joseph Stadler, Anna Riebniger, Johanna Lesch and Bertha Stadler.

Visitation Wednesday, July 29, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the N.H. Scott & Hanekamp Funeral Home, 1240 Waukegan Rd. (2 Blocks South of Lake St.), Glenview and Thursday, July 30, at St. Norbert Church, 1809 Walters Ave., Northbrook from 9:30 a.m. until time of Mass at 10 a.m. Entombment All Saints Mausoleum.

In lieu of flowers contributions to St. Norbert Church appreciated.

Lafnitzegger, Mary J.

Mary J. Lafnitzegger, age 93, Beloved wife of the late Ignatz. For more than 40 years (1945-1987) she and her late husband were owners of "Ignatz's & Mary's Grove Inn". It was located at the Northeast corner of Milwaukee and Lake/Euclid Avenues, serving superb German American food for thousands of patrons and their families. She was the loving mother of Margaret (Fritz) Miller, Frederick (Elizabeth) and Richard (Jane) and the late Robert Ignatz Lafnitzegger; devoted grandmother of 11; great-grandmother of 15; dear sister of Loretta Klus, Rosalia Bach, Alfons Stadler, and the late Frank, Alois, John and Joseph Stadler, Anna Riebniger, Johanna Lesch and Bertha Stadler. Visitation was held Wednesday, July 29th, at the N.H. Scott & Hanekamp Funeral Home, Glenview, and Thursday, July 30th, at St. Norbert Church, Northbrook. Entombment All Saints Mausoleum. In lieu of flowers, contributions to St. Norbert Church appreciated. Funeral info: (847) 998-1020. Arrangement John E. Maloney Funeral Home.

As mentioned in their obituaries, Ignatz and Mary Lafnitzegger are entombed in the mausoleum at All Saints Catholic Cemetery in Des Plaines, Illinois in an area dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi:

As mentioned above, after Ignatz and Mary retired, the restaurant was run by their daughter Margaret and her husband Fritz Miller until the end of 1986.

Ignatz and Mary`s was sold at the end of 1986 to the Marriott Corp. After weighing all the options, the family decided that a sale of full 5 acre parcel was the best and only economic decision for them. 

Today a chain hotel sits on the site of the former Ignatz and Mary's.

Ignatz and Mary Lafnitzegger, noted restaurateurs, fondly remembered by countless thousands of satisfied customers - may they rest in peace.   


  1. I ate there several times in the 1970's. Fantastic food and service. Maybe I am just getting old and tired of all the chain restaurants but the Grove Inn oozed an atmosphere of style and grace. Even back then you felt all the history this place had experienced. Ignatz and Mary were truly proud of their business and they poured their hearts & souls into making your stop there a very memorable one.

    As for the lost of their son, Pvt. Joseph I. Lafnitzegger, in WWII.... Godspeed to this national hero. This must have weighed heavily on them both till they passed away and were re-united with him.

    As you have said before, a grave maker tells so little about what one accomplished, saw, experiences, suffered through and gave in life. I have seen private mausoleum buildings that housed the remains of mafia crooks to an unmarked grave that belonged to a national hero. You just never know.

  2. Worked there in the late 70s as a bus boy. Real old school. Great pickled red cabbage

  3. My dad, Leonard Noesen, was Ignatz's right hand man for heating, air conditioning, and general repairs and construction. Many a day, we would have the car packed for a picnic when the phone would ring, and Ignatz would say, "Is your Father there, I'm in a mess!" Naturally, Ignatz came before a family outing. My dad always took Mom and their 7 children to the Grove Inn for the Schlachfest and wild game dinners. When weddings used to be an all day celebration, when 2 of my sisters were married, the breakfast after the morning wedding ceremony was held at the Grove Inn! The evening celebration was held at a much larger venue. I have been trying to find fried chicken equal to Mary's, but none is to be found across all of America.

  4. My husband and I courted with many a good meal there when he was flying out of Glenview N.A.S.! We both enjoyed the Steak Tartar among other good meals...