The Perfect Dinner closes in Oak Park

Nine-year-old business shuts doors


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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

It was all in the name: The Perfect Dinner.

But Karen Gruber's vision to preserve the concept of a homemade, sit-down family dinner fell on hard times in mid-2008, much like other dining establishments. At the end of December 2012, the doors shut and Gruber announced that Perfect Dinner is closed for good.

"I expected some sort of rebound so I kept hanging on," she said. "I was thinking that we might be able to rebuild, but at some point you just have to cut the losses and move on."

She said when the economy dipped, so did her everyday customers who looked to her establishment as a substitute for their own kitchens. That particular business, she said, was the "bread and butter" of Perfect Dinner. Gift-giving and special occasion-ordering remained constant, but the rest took a hit when people cut back on food expenses.

Now the space sits vacant, except for the kitchen equipment, which Gruber said will likely come with the lease.

The Perfect Dinner opened in 2003. As a busy working mom who wanted to prepare nice dinners for her family, Gruber felt compelled to launch the business. She said it was the type of food you wanted to cook if and when time permitted.

With the business booming going into 2008, she opened a second location in Park Ridge. At mid-year, the second location failed and her original spot also suffered.

"It was a personal mission of mine and I'm deeply regretful," Gruber said. "I did everything possible to keep it going."

On Perfect Dinner's website, she wrote a letter to her customers explaining the closing and sharing her warm thoughts for the community. She mentions in the letter that she is looking for a local restaurant to help honor a portion of any outstanding gift accounts and certificates.

"This decision to close is difficult for me since I have been personally guided by the family-dinner mission for a very long time," Gruber wrote. "But I know the mission is bigger than this particular business and — if individually embraced — can certainly survive its closing."

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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Liz from River Forest   

Posted: February 19th, 2013 12:21 PM

I was so sorry to hear that The Perfect Dinner closed. I was just going on line to order up dinner tonight. My family and I enjoyed many delicious recipes, especially your enchilladas :-) I also loved being able to send dinners to friends who were sick, and going through treatment, remodeling kitchens and stressed with daily life. Your business will be missed, best wishes.

Footlongs for dinner  

Posted: January 14th, 2013 3:40 PM

@Gail Moran from Oak Park, Illinois: The labelling of any questioning of teacher union policies as "teacher bashing" is the the reason the union was able to write in and institutionalize fraudulent 25% pension inflation raises into their contracts for years and unblinkingly call it business as usual. This was a money grab by teachers pure and simple, finally outlawed by the state in 2011.

Marty Bracco from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 2:14 PM

News flash! ...a local resident, and fantastic chef, Daniel Vogel, is taking over the space at 809 South Blvd for his new business, Food Obsession. Learn more on Facebook or at Daniel is one of Chicago's great culinary talents as evidenced by his work at Blue Plate Catering and Phil Stefani Signature restaurants. Eat his food and be happy! Best wishes and much success Daniel & Trish!!


Posted: January 8th, 2013 12:50 PM

I have only ordered from the Perfect Dinner once, and while the food was good/okay the prices were outrageous. I could have ordered a similar take out dinner for less from Cucina or another restaurant. It is sad anytime a small business closes, but it is hardly surprising when the prices charged were out-of-line with the realities of the market. Plus, there was really nothing that distinguished them from the competition justifying the higher cost.

June Stout from Oak Park  

Posted: January 8th, 2013 12:41 PM

I have a gift cert, also, so I will just have to take it at a loss. That is the risk of gift certificates; I had the same issue with Borders. My point is the Avenue Business District can not afford to lose another business. Which one is next?

HR Block from Oak Park  

Posted: January 8th, 2013 10:19 AM

To any holders of gift certs or coupons...unfortunately you're likely out of luck. The cash these items generated could be claimed by first line creditors (i.e. banks), regardless of the terms of sale, especially if there it a consideration of bankruptcy. I wish Ms Gruber well, but these things happen & most things you buy carry some risk. As long as there was no intent to defraud prior to closing there's nothing you can do.

Lynjn from Oak Park  

Posted: January 8th, 2013 7:57 AM

At least GROUPON will refund the cost of my unused Perfect Dinner vouchers but what about all the folks that had credit or bought Christmas Gift Certificates directly from The Perfect Dinner? Karen must have known they were closing when she sold those in Nov and Dec- not Ethical and Unfair!

Hungry for a refund too  

Posted: January 8th, 2013 12:34 AM

June and all her friends maybe you ask her how Karen plans to refund all the gift certificates and unused account money? Or was it all a holiday bonus for her and her family? Maybe this article should be in the blotter?

June Stout from Oak Park  

Posted: January 7th, 2013 3:55 PM

I am so sorry to see yet another business located in the Avenue District close. Karen has always been helpful with the various events (at least when I was a part of the Ave); I wish her and all of the staff the best of luck.

Matt on Madison  

Posted: January 7th, 2013 8:43 AM

Went there many times and the last time I was there they switched to a lower quality chicken and had a different cheese on the dish. It was awful and I vowed to never go back. Makes sense now as they were trying to lower costs. Best of luck in the future.

Anne from Oak Park  

Posted: January 6th, 2013 10:47 AM

The Perfect Dinner was really perfect but it did end up being a tad expensive for my pocketbook. I wish them well though and regret this loss to our community.

Cheryl Munoz from Oak Park  

Posted: January 5th, 2013 9:15 PM

I am sorry to see another Oak Park independent business shut it's doors. Thank you, A Perfect Dinner, for your hard work. Your staff generously helped us get our first Sugar Beet Co-op event go smoothly this past summer. Family dinners are so important... let's keep working to make sure everyone has access to good food!

T.J. from Oak Park  

Posted: January 5th, 2013 8:54 PM

Note to self. Don't buy gift certificates. They often prove to be a waste of money. Give cash, I guarantee the recipient will use it.

Jason from Oak Park  

Posted: January 5th, 2013 8:51 PM

Too bad I never even thought about using this place. I just never thought about them. If I had I would have used the place. Maybe the location was a problem. Out of sight, out of mind.

Paddy Boy  

Posted: January 5th, 2013 1:38 PM

Karen did a great dinner for me Mums' 90th! Good luck to you lassie!


Posted: January 5th, 2013 12:21 PM

I loved The Perfect Dinner when my children were young. You saved my sanity and kept everyone fed! Thank you.

Samuels Family  

Posted: January 5th, 2013 5:55 AM

Where can I get a refund on the gift certificates I just bought after thanksgiving? Sad to see them go. Sad to see my few hundred dollars gone too! What about accounts with money in them that was donated to help people?

OP Resident 538 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 9:45 PM

Perfect Dinner was a favorite when it opened but we saw the quality deteriorate after the first year or two. The quality of ingredients and portion sizes dropped but the prices increased. Recipes were "updated" with bland replacements. The food quality had dropped to a level where we didn't feel it was worth the money any more. Sorry to see them go, but can't say I'm surprised or would have returned. It's a great concept that can work here.

Vicki Matranga from Oak Park  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 9:06 PM

It's not teacher bashing, it's anger at politicians who use teachers as their political base and lie to the electorate, making promises that they never meant to keep. When residents must pay ever-rising taxes to pay for benefits of public sector employees that can be 100% greater than we private sector fools get, anger grows. Local businesses suffer, since we must cinch our belts ever tighter to continue living in this town. More closings of local businesses will follow in 2013.

thank you from Oak Park  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 9:02 PM

Oh I enjoyed The Perfect Dinner, thank you for your niche while in Oak Park. I never had a bad meal... great salad, bread, and main dishes. It did get a little pricey, started to go to whole foods more and cook at home. Hey, thanks - I went there at least 20 times.

Footlongs for dinner  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 7:48 PM

For years, the school district doled out 25% preretirement "salary bumps" to teachers nearing retirement for the express purposed of bloating (nearly doubling) the basis for the teacher's pension amount. Yes, that scam was perpetrated on the state pension system. But now SD 200 just justified another tax levy increase by telling us they may need the money to cover these bloated pension obligations if the responsibility becomes local. That reduction in disposable income took its toll locally.

Gail Moran from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 6:05 PM

Sad to see this go, though my last contact with them was not great (didn't deliver to the family suffering the death of a loved one). Still, the concept is a good one and I wish she could have hung on. And, BTW, what do teachers' pensions have to do with any of this?? Sad that we have teacher haters in Oak Park.

OPRF Parent  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 5:44 PM

Even on an article about a place closing, teacher bashing is going on. Amazing. And sad!

Footlongs for dinner  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 5:38 PM

This kind of convenience/nicety/low level luxury is the first thing to go when Oak Park taxpayers have to reckon with the financial consequences of $100,000 teacher salaries and the after-effects of those pension-bloating 25%preretirement salary bumps handed to the teachers union. Given the recent double tax levy increase, perhaps a Subway store would fare better.


Posted: January 4th, 2013 5:32 PM

Correction: Refund!

Kristi Oak Park  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 5:29 PM

So what happened to the account (unused balance) I had at Perfect Dinner?


Posted: January 4th, 2013 5:28 PM

Yes, if you have a Groupon, Groupon will review the face value.

Oak Park  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 5:24 PM

If she was aware that her business was soon to close, why did she accept credit cards for gift certificates in mid-December? She's looking for a restaurant to honor a "portion of the outstanding gift accounts". She owes people a full refund.

Davis from Oak Park  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 5:14 PM

I loved the concept, but I felt that many dishes were bland and not very tasty, even though I tried them 4-5 times. I would've continued buying from them, but the menu did not improve. Possibly others felt the same and this contributed to their closure.

Melanie from Oak Park  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 4:46 PM

I have been a big fan of the Perfect Dinner since it has saved me on many occasions when I needed dinner or soup in a pinch. I have used their catering and appreciated that they were happy to donate to worthy local causes. I will miss TPD! Thanks for 9 years of being there when we needed you!

Chris Carrier  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 4:43 PM

I believe you can get a face value refund from Groupon.

Oak Parker from Oak Park  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 4:37 PM

Oh no! I never cashed in my Groupon for the Perfect Dinner and now it's too late!!! Isn't it?

Sheree Bixler from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 4th, 2013 3:55 PM

So sad to see this end. The Perfect Dinner provide just that, perfect dinners for busy working parents. I too, used to order from here until I was laid off from my job this past February. I instead cooked our family dinners since I was home again. The Perfect Dinner will be missed in Oak Park.

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