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After more than 11 years of serving scrambled eggs, coffee and hash browns at the intimate corner joint near Madison Street and Thomas Avenue, Louie's Grill is about to get a facelift.
Within the next few months, owners Louie and Ellen Politis plan to double the restaurant's size and redecorate the interior to mirror a 1950s and 1960s theme. Think black and white photos, Coca-Cola memorabilia and possibly a jukebox, according to Ellen Politis.
"We always wanted to expand, but it wasn't part of the building's plan," she said. "So when the opportunity was presented, we jumped at it."
On Sept. 1, the two signed a lease to rent the property next door, formerly Kazzbarr. They plan to start renovations as soon as the design is approved by the village. While the new addition is under construction, Louie's current location at 7422 Madison St. will remain open during normal business hours. Sometime after the holidays, the old grill will shut down for renovations while the new building will serve customers.
The finished product will feature one comprehensive diner measuring 3,000 square feet equipped with an open kitchen in the center and seating for 90 people, up from 50 right now.
"It will give us the opportunity to accommodate bigger groups and take care of our customers so that they're not so rushed," said Ellen Politis, who said mornings and weekends can get pretty chaotic in the narrow space. "We want a more relaxed environment where they can enjoy their food."
One concept that is sure to stay with the expansion is the open kitchen, which allows for people to see Louie Politis, a cook for nearly 30 years, in action.
Paul Nashlund, an Elmwood Park resident who frequents Louie's about three times a week, loves to sit at the counter.
"There aren't a lot of grills left any more where you get to meet the cook," he said. "Here, if Louie does something wrong, I scream at him and he screams back at me."
Nashlund, 52, said that along with the good food, he likes Louie's because "it's very entertaining."
"There are a lot of characters here, and I think I'm one of them," he said.
Louie and Ellen Politis don't expect that atmosphere to change.
What's more, they are going to offer the same menu, though there will be a few additions, such as waffles, gyros, salads and more daily specials.
"We're not fancy, but the food is good," Ellen Politis said.
On top of the menu, there's one more concern that regulars are asking about: what will happen to the lighthouses?
Over the years, customers have been bringing Louie Politis lighthouses from all over the country as a gift to his diner. He's not quite sure how that tradition started, but he remembers telling his wife, "Everybody keeps bringing me lighthouses!"
Ellen Politis assures that they will still set aside a special place for the treasures to be displayed.
The building at 7422 Madison St. has featured a diner and grill far back into Forest Park's history. Before Louie, 53, and Ellen, 45, both from Greece, owned the space, it was Pete's Grill for about 35 years, and another grill was reportedly there before that.