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Public Outcry Staves Off Mirabell Closing ... For a Week: May 9 Is Last Day

By Patty Wetli | May 1, 2015 9:07am | Updated on May 4, 2015 8:51am

IRVING PARK — Faced with public outcry after announcing plans to permanently close Mirabell restaurant this Sunday, owner Jeff Heil has decided to keep the Irving Park institution open.

For one more week.

"I've got a thousand people who want to come in," Heil said of the brief reprieve.

"May 9th is the last day. That's it," he said.

Though Wednesday's announcement that Mirabell would shutter after nearly 50 years of operation came as a surprise to patrons, Heil said the decision to pull the plug on the restaurant, which his father bought in 1977, has been a long time coming.

"I wish I did it five years ago," he said.

Jeff Heil, with a photo of his father looking over his shoulder, is ready to pursue his own dreams. [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

Business has been on a downward slide for the better part of two decades, Heil said, and despite an extensive remodeling effort in 2013 and the introduction of new menu items, "no matter what we did, nothing clicked."

"The restaurant business is tough, especially in this area. In the last four months, I've had two good weekends," he said. "I need a good weekend every week. Enough's enough."

Roped into the family business straight out of Purdue in 1990, Heil is ready to pursue his own dreams.

"This was my dad's idea, my mom's idea," Heil said of Mirabell. "I'm burned out."

Patty Wetli says running the place was quite a grind:

The Old World charm of restaurants like Mirabell is gradually disappearing from Chicago's dining scene. [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

He's putting the property at 3454 W. Addison St. up for sale and plans to decamp with his wife and five-year-old daughter to Katy, Texas.

"The schools are brand new. The cost of living is 70 percent less. I'm going from a dump to a mansion" in terms of housing and saving nearly $50,000 a year in business taxes, Heil said of Katy, which is about 25 miles west of Houston.

He's already picked out a location in Texas for a new restaurant that will not serve German cuisine, and in another couple of years would like to open a fitness center.

"I'm excited as hell," he said.

Fans of Mirabell, one of the city's few remaining authentic German restaurants, are less enthusiastic.

"A lot of good memories here, a lot of history," said Tony Perez, who held down a stool at Mirabell's bar Thursday, one of the many customers who stopped in as soon as he heard news of the impending closing.

Just weeks ago, Mirabell was touting an appearance on the television show "Chicago's Best," he said.

"The next thing I know he's closing. What?" Perez said.

Fans of Mirabell have until May 9 to bid the restaurant auf wiedersehen. [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

Perez became a Mirabell devotee in the late 1980s, drawn to the friendly atmosphere, great food and great beer, he said.

He was joined a few years later by Tom Zielinski, who anchored the south end of Mirabell's bar alongside Perez on Thursday.

"He corrupted me," Zielinski joked, pointing at Perez.

"I went to school down the street at DeVry and we'd come in and order the Wednesday oxtail special," Zielinski said. "We'd study a little and drink a little."

He and Perez were part of a core group of regulars who called Mirabell home every Saturday, starting at noon and hanging out sometimes until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.

"A lot of good conversations took place here," said Zielinksi.

But it's been years since he kicked the Mirabell habit.

What happened?

"A girlfriend," the now-married Zielinski said.

He last stopped into the restaurant in November or December, and that's exactly Heil's point.

The phone has been ringing off the hook and his email box is filled with "You can't close!" messages.

"I ask, 'When did you stop coming?'" Heil said. "A woman told me, 'When the city took away your parking.' That was 1995. You haven't been here in 20 years."

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