By John Rice
It's not unusual for locals to develop an attachment to a Forest Park restaurant. But the connection between the family of Chuck and Maureen Sullivan and the Golden Steer Steakhouse is truly remarkable. The Sullivans consider the eatery at 7635 Roosevelt Road their ancestral home, serving as a site for family reunions, 40th wedding anniversary parties and more. Golden Steer's owner and staff treat the Sullivans like family. But, really, the couple stumbled on their relationship with the restaurant quite by accident.
The Sullivans' saga begins centuries ago, when a family by the name of Hopkins immigrated to Ireland from England to operate a series of successful pubs. The busiest was owned by Sullivan's great-grandfather, Thomas Hopkins, on the west coast of Ireland. It served as a site for "Irish wakes," where families would gather to host a big party for those departing for America and other distant lands. Families knew they wouldn't see these loved ones again. So in typical Irish fashion, family members threw them a memorable sendoff.
Returning to Ireland
In 2005, Forest Park's Sullivans ventured to Ireland to find the old bar where all this merriment took place. They first travelled to southwest Cork, Hopkins' hometown. When Chuck Sullivan arrived, he was disappointed that he felt nothing for the city his ancestors had abandoned. A helpful innkeeper later informed him, "The Irish didn't leave from Cork, they left from Cobh."
Cobh is a busy southern port where ships departed for Australia, America and Canada. Formerly known as Queenstown, Cobh is where the Titanic and the Lusitania made their last port of call. The Sullivans found themselves standing on the very pier where the White Star steamers had docked. Chuck's emotions swelled. "This was home," he realized.
Chuck Sullivan's great-grandfather had left Cobh in the late 19th Century. Thomas Hopkins boarded a ship, crossed the Atlantic and settled in the Irish-American town of southern Maple Grove, Illinois. He named the second of his nine children Abraham Lincoln Hopkins, in honor of the 16th president. Abe Hopkins later started a business on Madison Street, in Maywood. The Sullivan clan never knew he also owned businesses in Forest Park.
Realizing Golden Steer
Chuck and Maureen Sullivan were newlyweds in 1977, when they first gave the Golden Steer a try. As they entered the restaurant, Chuck felt that overwhelming sense of joy that would later hit him on the docks at Cobh. Plus, the food was so good he was eager to invite his parents, Charles and Margaret Sullivan, to join him.
As soon as Sullivan's parents entered Golden Steer they acted strangely.
"My mom got up and walked into the bar and then the kitchen. My dad did the same thing," Chuck said.
Charles and Margaret had never told their children that they used to work at the Forest Park establishment. In fact, Charles, the part-time bartender, and the owner's daughter, Margaret, were married there in April 1939.
Abe Hopkins had opened this Irish West Side Bar in 1934. He wanted to replicate the success of his father by comforting mourners in the tradition of Irish wakes. Except these would be real wakes.
"He started the pub to serve mourners from the nearby cemeteries, like Queen of Heaven and Mount Carmel," Chuck explained.
Hopkins would serve them food. Mourners would drink and tell stories to celebrate the departed.
Like his father, Abe Hopkins had nine children. The family lived in an apartment above the pub. A dumbwaiter, or small freight elevator, would bring up food from the kitchen. Margaret worked in that kitchen, while Charles tended bar. Abe Hopkins continued to operate the bar until shortly before his death in 1945.
Chuck Sullivan, the family historian, was thrilled by the discovery of his family's ties to Golden Steer. He couldn't wait to share it with his cousins. On May 2, 2015, Sullivan family members traveled from across the country to the Golden Steer. Like Chuck, they were overcome by emotion. Women were crying, as Sullivan gave a powerpoint presentation about the family's history.
Golden Steer owner and chef Charlie Tzouras, also watched the presentation. Tzouras proved a gracious host. He gave the family a tour of the restaurant and picked up the check for their reunion. Sullivan said it was gratifying to see that the dumbwaiter was still in working order. The Golden Steer became their "special place," so it was natural they would celebrate their anniversary there.
On that day, Sullivan brought an edible basket to the restaurant for Chef Charlie and his staff.
"I thanked him for keeping my grandfather's dream alive," said Sullivan, "We consider his place home."