JEFFERSON PARK — It wouldn't be enough for the Gale Street Inn to celebrate its 50th anniversary by hosting a party and rolling back its menu and prices to 1963 for a weekend.
Instead, the wood-paneled restaurant known for its fall-off-the-bone ribs swathed in a sweet peppery sauce will use its golden anniversary to raise money for a dozen nonprofit organizations, owner George Karzas said.
"This way we can spend a whole year talking about the restaurant, without it being the sole focus," Karzas said.
Throughout March, the Gale Street Inn will raise money for Arts Alive 45, which is working to revitalize the arts throughout Jefferson Park and Portage Park. Diners can donate $10 for a chance to play a "Wheel of Fortune"-style game to win restaurant gift certificates and other prizes that Karzas calls the Wheel of Love.
"Karzas is a generous guy with a generous soul," said Cyd Smillie, the president of Arts Alive 45 and the 45th Ward arts liaison. "His commitment to this community is really unparalleled."
In January, the restaurant raised about $1,000 for The Gift Theatre, which is just down the street. In February, Gale Street Inn diners donated about $1,400 to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Karzas said.
George and Joan Chioles opened the landmark restaurant in 1963 across the street from the current location, 4914 N. Milwaukee Ave. In 1969, the city condemned the restaurant to build the Jefferson Park Transit Center, prompting its move. Karzas' father bought the restaurant in 1985, and Karzas took it over in 1992. In 2010, the bar was remodeled.
"We are obligated as a business that has been here so long to take ownership in the community," Karzas said. "It is time to stop whining and start doing."
Karzas said he is determined to use the restaurant's anniversary to pay his good fortune forward, a desire spurred by the death of two longtime employees in a fiery crash on the day after Thanksgiving in 2010.
Debbie Ceglarek, a waitress at the restaurant for 30 years, and Javier Cisneros, a cook, were killed while on the way home from work when a man driving a stolen car ran a red light and slammed into their vehicle near Addison Street and Pulaski Road, police said.
"This is all in the spirit of Debbie and Javier," Karzas said. "Their deaths changed my life. I haven't really gotten over it."
The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays, giving the staff time to volunteer together and connect as a family, Karzas said.
"It is a chance to recognize we've got it pretty good and to pay it forward," Karzas said.
On March 26, Gale Street Inn will host Brush With Happiness to raise money for Arts Alive 45's joint effort with the National Veterans Art Museum to create a mural. For $25, attendees can drink, snack on appetizers, listen to music from Tommy Tuesday, play games and win prizes.
"A mural will a great way to broadcast the museum's presence in the community," said Levi Moore Jr., the museum's executive director. "It will be a symbol to encourage people to visit."
Arts Alive 45 plans to issue a request for proposals for the mural, which the group hopes to exhibit at the museum, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., and throughout the area before it is installed somewhere near Six Corners. The artist must be a military veteran of any era, Moore said.
"We're hoping someone will blow our mind," Moore said.
Proposals focusing on the theme of healing will be due sometime in late spring, Moore said.
"We want to help everyone learn the tools to use art to move past trauma," Smillie said. "Not just the trauma of war, but also violence and living in the city trauma."
In April, the Gale Street Inn will raise money for Chicago Gateway Green and Misericordia. In May, the focus will be on the Special Olympics Illinois.