OLD IRVING PARK — A beloved Northwest Side location of the Golden Nugget Pancake House closed this week after struggling for years with dwindling customers, reduced hours and fewer employees.
Golden Nugget, 4229 W. Irving Park Road, was once one of the chain’s 24-hour spots, long popular with the breakfast and late-night crowds, neighbors said. It first opened in 1970.
But the hours changed to 6 a.m.-10 p.m. about five years ago, and business hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, owner Cathy Guzman said. She also said the restaurant only employed about five people, and she had trouble finding new workers.
Guzman closed the location Sunday and is looking to lease the space to someone else, she said.
“I will be honest, people aren’t eating out like they used to or ordering like they used to. Our sales there were in the dumps,” Guzman said. “We were still busy there on the weekends, but you can’t subsist a restaurant on just weekend sales.”
A sign advertising open positions for servers, a host and people to take delivery orders was still on one of restaurant’s windows Wednesday, but Guzman said staffers have been moved to other locations. Other signs told customers where to find longtime servers Diane, Nancy and Odette.
“Literally, my heart is in my stomach still. I’ve worked for Golden Nugget for the past 34 years. I’ve watched kids grow up,” Guzman said. “It hurts us to have to close a location. We just hope that customers go to our other locations. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Meredith O’Sullivan said she had been going to Golden Nugget at least once a month for the past 20 years.
“We would walk in the door and the all the waiters and waitresses knew my name, my husband’s name, my children’s names, our orders. It didn’t matter what section we sat in,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m going to miss them, really miss them. We’re heartbroken.”
The restaurant was a welcoming location for older people eating breakfast, neighbors stopping by for lunch with friends and people who live in the nearby Irving Park YMCA, neighbors said.
When it was still a 24-hour joint, teenagers met up to drink coffee for hours and bar hoppers grabbed a bite after last call, neighbors said.
Danny Sobor, 29, now lives in Michigan but grew up in the neighborhood and said some of his “warmest and funniest” memories from high school were with friends hanging out at Golden Nugget.
“Some of my fondest memories of high school are leaving Lollapalooza, taking the Blue Line home and then a bunch of kids that didn’t live in that area would just to go to that Golden Nugget at like 2 a.m. or whatever,” Sobor said. “We’d roll in, like 15 deep, our entire extended friend group would just take over two booths.”
Before Eris Brewery & Cider House opened across the street, owners Michelle Foik and Katy Pizza often went to the Golden Nugget to meet with contractors or discuss their plans for their business.
“That was one of the only places we could go in the planning phases because we’d have these huge blueprint documents and needed space to spread out,” Pizza said.
Foik and Pizza also took inspiration from Golden Nugget’s booths when they were designing their brewery’s booths. Pizza joked that her son preferred the breakfast from there.
“I’m a little bit dumbfounded. I would have really liked to have said goodbye to some of the people there,” Pizza said. “They saw my kids grow up. We’ll really miss them.”
Golden Nugget Pancake House opened in 1966 and has four remaining locations at 2406 W. Diversey Ave., 3959 W. Diversey Ave., 3001 N. Central Ave. and 1765 W. Lawrence Ave.
The chain’s 3234 W. Irving Park Road location closed at the start of the pandemic and didn’t reopen, Guzman said. It has been leased out to House of Wah Sun owner Mark Chiang, she said.
Chiang said his lease at Wah Sun’s at 4319 N. Lincoln Ave. was not renewed and he was going to have to move out by the end of the year. He decided to relocate to the former Golden Nugget near Kedzie Avenue, he said.
“Pretty much everything’s ready; we’re just waiting for the city’s approval to open,” Chiang said. “But we’re still open in Lincoln Square until then.”
Guzman said she’s not looking forward to going back to the recently closed restaurant to start clearing it out.
“We’re going to miss that area. If we had enough employees and people coming in to eat, we would’ve been been OK. But we had to close it because you can’t have one store pay for another,” Guzman said.
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