When Bertucci's Italian Steakhouse opened in Highwood 23 years ago, it attracted not just local diners but people from Libertyville and Lincolnshire looking for a nice meal out. But as those towns began getting more restaurants of their own, owner Bruce Bertucci said his customers stopped making the trip.
"It’s much safer to have a few cocktails five minutes from
home than to have to drive 20, 25 minutes,” he said. "We were steadily losing business. People aren’t coming to
HIghwood. They’re staying in their own towns.
While many businesses have seen their fortunes improve since the
economic downtown of 2008, things only got worse for Bertucci's.
“Business kept going down for the last five years," Bertucci
said. "We’re still in a recession. It’s not improving."
Last week Bruce and his wife Lynne announced their decision to
close the restaurant.
“It’s very sad," Bertucci said. "We’ve been here 23
years. We’ve got a million wonderful friends that are shocked and sad this is
happening, but I guess all things end.”
restaurant's last day was Sunday.
“It will be our old customers coming in for their last supper,”
Bertucci predicted earlier that week.
Marc Korhumel of Libertyville was one of those old customers. He
said the "friendly atmosphere and good food" drew him back for more
than 10 years.
"I grew up in Lake Forest and this is a great meeting
place," he said. "We're going to miss it."
Arona Landsman was having one last family dinner at Bertucci's
"I think it's very, very sad," she said. "We've had
a lot of happy events here. We're here every Thanksgiving. Everything we
celebrate, we celebrate here. I don't know what we're going to do. I don't know
where we're going to go."
Her husband Bob said he wants to keep track of the restaurant's
staff to see where they wind up.
"We feel like we're part of Bertucci's extended family and that's what makes it sad," he said. "We know Bruce, we know the waitresses, we know the busboys, we know everybody."
Bertucci plans to sell the property.
"Hopefully someone else will come here and put a nice restaurant in town, which Highwood needs," he said. "Hopefully someone else wants to come and give it a try.”
He also had some advice for any future restaurateurs that might take over the space.
“You’ve got to be personal,
you’ve got to be at the front door, you’ve got to greet your customers, you’ve
got to get to know them," Bertucci said. "That’s what I’ve done for
the 23 years -- I’ve made a lot of friends.”