The Original Papa Joe's in New Lenox is just five years old, but it's got regulars, including one couple that comes in every day. When they host an annual party at the restaurant, “we take care of them on that,” said the restaurant's manager, Joe Agate.
It's a place where strangers can be treated like family, and that's because Papa Joe's is a family-owned business with the New Lenox location and another in Oak Lawn by the same name.
Brothers Joe and Frank Agate own the two locations, with the New Lenox spot being run by Frank's sons, Jason, Joe and Lou. One of them is always in the restaurant to “put a face behind the plate” as Jason, the head chef, put it.
“We're a family restaurant and we like to dine," Jason said. "How we eat at home is how we give people the experience at Papa Joe's."
With pizza, pasta and prime rib specials, the family tries to keep it simple with home-cooked style meals, but with "a nice little twist on regular dishes," Jason said.
“Cooking's always been my passion and I just like to make people happy," he continued. "When you go to a corporate restaurant sometimes, the chef doesn't have the ability to create and give people a different experience than they had at other restaurants. People are always looking for something special or unique that's going to stand out.”
Another way Papa Joe's has stood out is by the addition of a patio in May, creating a back porch to the home that Papa Joe's has become. Although weather interfered quite a bit last year, the Agates believe that they will have their best year ever thanks to the combination of that patio and their location. Located just north of the Village Commons, it can be an ideal spot for watching Fourth of July fireworks and a post-party destination for the Triple Play Concert Series shows and other events that take place in and around the Village Hall area.
In addition to the patio, Papa Joe's has started to offer karaoke on Thursday and Saturday, and will have its first live act—a New Lenox area Frank Sinatra impersonator—at the restaurant April 29.
The brothers are actually the third generation of Agates to work in the restaurant business, and they hope that continues with future family members.
“The restaurant business is one of the toughest to be in," Jason said. "You seem go up and you see em go down. Only 10 percent make it out of the first year, and we've been here for five. We owe a lot of that to our father and our uncle because of their expertise and their 30 years in the business.”
But they also remain focused on the current generation, as well. The restaurant isn't just their livelihood, but their lives, and the family atmosphere comes from putting themselves out in the community, such as participating in charity events like the Fire District pancake breakfasts.
“We have to make this work because this is our retirement,” Jason said. “There are no benefits. Our benefit is that we get to see our families everyday and work with them...and we eat well.”
Joe added, “We don't make a lot of money but we sure have a lot of fun.”