Threads that compose a fabric of Pekin’s history are woven through a cozy family restaurant just north of downtown.
They stretch as well into Peoria, where Andy Krakos opened three eateries in the early 1950’s – one on Main Street near Bradley University, another at Forrest Hill and Knoxville avenues, and a third on Farmington Road. Two more followed in Pekin before Krakos’ death in 1967.
Of them all, one remains, a former drive-in that’s now a breakfast-lunch diner with an imaginative menu and owners, past and present, and customers that are entwined like family generations.
That’s as obvious as the nostalgic collection of framed pictures on the wall at Andy’s Diner.
It was before this fall, when the daughter of Andrew and Fotoula Krakos visited the 61-year-old business at North Eighth and Willow streets and its current owners, Lisa and Tom Poole.
“There weren’t any pictures of my dad,” said Maria Krakos Thompson of Peoria, a retired teacher whose cherished family memories rekindled with the 50th anniversary of his passing. “I heard people (there) had been asking whatever happened to the Krakos family?
“I asked Lisa if she wanted some of my pictures to hang up,” Thompson said. “She said, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Lisa Poole smiled as she took a moment this week to again study what Thompson has produced so far.
“I just love the prices,” she said, that are listed in a newspaper advertisement from the mid-50s for Andy’s Pig & Whistle Drive-in, which thrived for years on Farmington Road in Peoria. “Golden-Fried Chicken-in-the-Basket” went for 69 cents. An “Atomic Soda” cost $1, a “Big Top Sundae” for 75 cents and strawberry shortcake was free for a weekend.
Centering the collection of similar menus from Andy’s outlets is a family photo taken to celebrate the opening of Krakos’ fifth restaurant – his second in Pekin and also named Andy’s – on Derby Street in 1961. Thompson, then 10, is holding her “first Barbie” doll, its caption reads.
“I still have it,” she said.
Poole took time Wednesday between the diner’s breakfast and lunch crowds to chat with two of its most loyal regulars as they lingered over their coffee. The three revealed their decades of connections, stretching from their home lives to Pekin Community High School.
“I had Lisa in my class,” said Judy Streid, who retired in 1993 after 30 years as a Latin teacher at the school. Before Lisa, “I had her mother,” a 1967 Pekin graduate.
Enough Pekinites knew about Streid’s years of public service to make her the Grand Marshal for the city’s Marigold Festival last year.
“I see a lot of my former kids here,” said Streid, who often chooses for breakfast a custom-made omelet “that they named after me.” Judy’s Omelet features green pepper, onion, cheese and sausage.
“They sell a lot of them, don’t you, Debbie?”
“Oh, yeah,” waitress Debbie Collier confirmed as she read a newspaper at the counter.
Linda Hay, Streid’s breakfast partner, said Poole “was my son’s best friend when they were kids. She was at our house every day.”
Streid also taught Tom Poole, who bought Andy’s seven years ago but also has a full-time job. She and Lisa recalled the time the diner, sold by Andy’s wife after his death, faced an uncertain future before the Pooles bought it.
Buck Tosi owned it then. “My dad grew up with him,” Lisa said. Husband Tom had managed restaurants “and he always wanted to own one, so we bought it.”
Streid wasn’t in on those plans. When she learned of Tosi’s plans to sell, “I said, ‘Buck, what am I going to do?’” He just smiled, she said.
“Then one day, Tom came out from the kitchen,” Streid said. “I was ecstatic!”
The Pig & Whistle and most of Krakos’ other dining destinations have faded into memories of a time before chain drive-ins and restaurants. At Andy’s Diner, however, those memories thrive as living history.
Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin