WOODLAWN — When Schaller’s Pump closed last week after 136 years in Bridgeport, it opened the door for a new holder of the title of Chicago's oldest restaurant.
That crown now belongs to Daley’s Restaurant in Woodlawn, which opened at 809 E. 63rd St. in 1892 — 11 years after Schaller's.
And although it's been in the same spot ever since, that might be changing.
Co-owner Mike Zee, whose great uncle bought Daley’s in 1918 from the original owner, said he's considering moving his historic restaurant.
Zee's been offered a spot in the Woodlawn Station building being constructed across 63rd Street — and he’s considering taking it.
“Nothing’s set in stone yet,” Zee said.
Zee likes the idea of everything being new and said he has little nostalgia for the current location. The restaurant’s legacy is more about his customers and his family than the physical space, he said.
“I’ll bring my pictures, but I’m not bringing any of my equipment,” Zee said.
He said he will likely make a decision within the next month about whether to move.
He'll be making the decision as Daley's marks two milestones: Becoming Chicago's oldest restaurant, and hitting 100 years of ownership by Zee's family.
Not that Zee is dwelling on that century mark.
He seemed unprepared for the looming triple-digit anniversary when he pulled himself away from the kitchen on Friday.
“I hadn’t really thought about it, I’d never really added it up,” Zee said.
Mike Zee is preparing to celebrate 100 years of someone in his family owning Daley's Restaurant in Woodlawn. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]
The restaurant was originally owned by Irish immigrant John Daley, who was not related to the Daley political dynasty. Daley opened the Woodlawn diner to feed construction workers like himself who were helping build the "L," the University of Chicago campus and the World's Columbian Exposition site.
Zee's family bought it in 1918. Mike Zee, whose father was a previous owner, has been helping in the kitchen since 1995, making crispy waffles, fried chicken wings and its signature burger.
He attributed the restaurant’s longevity to no great secret, he just knows his customers and what they like.
“Nothing’s really changed, we’ve had the same clientele since” I started working here, Zee said. “A good portion of my customers I know on a first-name basis.”
Daley’s seems poised to beat Schaller’s Pump’s 136 years pretty handily as long as its customers keep coming.
Zee hasn’t hit 40 years old yet, and though married, doesn’t have children. If he does have kids and they start working at Daley’s at 15 years old, as Zee did, passing the Schaller’s Pump mark of 136 years will already be far behind them.
The next oldest restaurant in Chicago is the Bergoff, 17 W. Adams St., which opened in 1898.