In 1977 a postage stamp was 13 cents, a gallon of gasoline was a little more than 60 cents and a sandwich at the Starship Restaurant on Madison Street could be had for less than $1.50.
Though Chicagoans shouldn’t hold their breath for gas to dip below even $3 a gallon, the Saturday lunch crowd at Starship experienced something of a time warp when the restaurant’s owners rolled back prices by three decades to celebrate their 30th year in business. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Aug. 25, owners Paul McKenna and Henry Laskowski practically gave their food away selling it at 1977 prices.
“It’s $1.30 for a sandwich that I think today costs $4.50,” McKenna said.
Since opening with a skimpy menu of maybe a half dozen sandwiches, Starship Restaurant at 7618 Madison St. has expanded its operation several times over to include more than 100 homemade soups, a full catering menu and of course, dozens of sandwich combinations that are out of this world. The restaurant has stuck by its “Star Wars”/”Star Trek” theme despite neither owner having a particular interest in the science fiction genre. The small, storefront restaurant is decorated with pictures, posters and even figurines celebrating the exploration of space as the final frontier.
“We get a lot of Trekkies in here,” Laskowski said.
The buzz surrounding the 1977 premier of the original “Star Wars” film, along with the popularity of “Star Trek,” led the restaurateurs to pin their hopes on the gimmick. The décor has endured despite a slight change in the restaurant’s name that was prompted by a lawsuit in the mid 1980s, Laskowski said. The Starship Enterprise was the original name of the restaurant, but that didn’t sit well with attorneys representing “Star Trek,” which had chosen the same name for its fictional spacecraft featured in movies and several TV series.
“It was strange,” Laskowski said of the suit. At one point, attorneys came to his Elmhurst home to serve him with papers, he said. “They didn’t even know what [the restaurant] was.”
In the early going, McKenna and Laskowski were making about $50 a week selling sandwiches at lower prices to try and build their clientele. Today, the business employs some 20 people and offers delivery, catering and a much more expansive menu.
The community around them has changed as well, McKenna said, bringing a new set of challenges to the business. For years, Forest Park had plenty of places to get a beer but nowhere to really get a bite to eat. That has changed dramatically and wonderfully, McKenna said, but forced the Starship to find a new direction. Catering now accounts for about 80 percent of the restaurant’s business, Laskowski said, though he’s convinced most area residents still view the restaurant as strictly a sandwich shop.
“We couldn’t survive with what comes through the front door,” Laskowski said.
A longstanding customer favorite is the Crazy Club sub, described as the ultimate BLT. As for their personal favorites on the menu, Laskowski is a fan of their signature sandwich, the Starship, which is “the biggest and best American style sandwich in our galaxy,” according to the menu. McKenna said his Italian lanasa, with capicola, mortadella, salami and spicy giardinera is the sandwich to choose.
“That and a cold beer on a hot summer day,” McKenna said.