In 1934, Silvio “Rip” Gualandri and his wife Emma opened a new bar in Ladd, Illinois named The Old Tin Front. It’s ideal location, the Southwest corner of Main and Walnut, was in close proximity to the railroad station and the coal mines. At first, the success of The Old Tin Front depended largely on the wave of increased patronage that resulted from the repeal of Prohibition. But as competing bars and taverns sprung up, Rip soon realized that his success had not been from the sale of alcohol, but from the deep-fried chicken that they had been giving away with the booze: free of charge, nonetheless!!
History was made, and the famous chicken tradition began. In 1936, the business was moved across the street to its present location and renamed Rip’s Tavern. The new building was much larger than the previous. The bar area and kitchen doubled in size, and a dining room was also added, which until then, had been non-existent.
For decades, the tavern was a “family affair.” Rip had a simple policy when it came to hiring, “Bring in as many relatives as possible, because your family won’t let you down.” On any given night, at least half of the workers would be immediate family. When the labor force got low, Rip would import more relatives from his hometown in Italy. As it turns out, his theory was correct. Rip’s brother, Virgil, was his faithful right-hand man for nearly forty years. Gina Ramey, Virgil´s daughter and still a current employee, started working at the tavern in 1957. That´s over 54 years!
Like all good things that eventually end, Rip and Emma retired in 1970. The tavern was sold to their son-in-law, Morgan Rounds, and nephew, Ralph Grivetti. Morgan and Ralph enjoyed quite a few years of prosperity. As the waiting line continued to grow, the duo increased the capacity of the kitchen and stream-lined the food preparation process in order to keep up with the ever increasing demand of their customers.
After a decade of success, Ralph retired, and his brother Richard stepped in to fill the void. Morgan´s son, Bill, also joined in ownership as Morgan prepared for his own retirement. Unfortunately, disaster struck. In January of 1985, an early morning fire consumed the entire restaurant. Family, friends, loyal customers, and the generous people of Ladd came to aid in the hard times, and Rip´s Tavern was rebuilt in five months. Morgan was able to retire, and another of his sons, David came to work full-time, eventually buying in as the third owner.
The trio of Richard (aka Dickerdoo), Bill, and Dave made great strides in improving the business while remaining adaptable to change. The management was split up for efficiency: Dick ran the bar, Bill ran the dining room, and Dave ran the kitchen. They immediately increased the business hours by adding Wednesday nights. In the early nineties, when the city passed an ordinance banning open alcohol on Main Avenue, the three owners bought the building immediately to the north and knocked a hole through the wall, doubling the indoor waiting area. Also completed during the remodel were two new bathrooms, a gigantic storage room, the beautiful bar that can still be seen today, and even a game room for the kids. Some other accomplishments of the era include: the invention of our own brand of chicken strips, a complete overhaul of the kitchen, and the inclusion of hosting fundraisers to aid our local schools and charities.
A couple things have changed in the past few years at the tavern, but not that many. Instead of importing relatives from Italy, Bill found it easier to hire students from the local college. Over time, he’s noticed that the younger employees definitely have a certain “flair” about them. Unfortunately, we had to abandon our signature paper plate due to a lack of supply, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’ve also recently begun construction of a new draft system and beer cooler to accomodate a larger variety of craft beers, hopefully to be completed in 2012.
The rest is pretty much the same. Gina and John are still working a couple of nights a week, Dave’s kitchen phone still rings all night long, and the line still stretches out of the front door. We still have the customers, we still have the atmosphere, and we are still Worth the Drive!!
Hope you enjoyed the read, and we look forward to seeing you soon!