Don’t expect to get a booth at Oak Park staple George’s Restaurant, 145 S. Oak Park Ave., on certain Wednesday mornings until 10 a.m. Any earlier, and the place is flooded with lively – but polite – teenagers.
On late arrival Wednesdays, Oak Park and River Forest High School students flock to George’s, for a delicious, if not always nutritious, breakfast with pals.
“I actually started working Wednesday mornings because of it,” said John, eldest son of George Konstantos, owner of the eponymous diner.
“In the old days, I used to work just nights, but when they started doing late arrival at the high school and the kids started coming, my dad was just a little overwhelmed by so many kids, so I picked up the shift,” he said.
That was almost 10 years ago. Since then, the practice has become something of a beloved tradition for Konstantos and the kids alike.
“It’s fun to go with friends and to see them before school starts because we don’t really get to see each other a lot during school,” said Jana Casey, 17.
Casey said she usually orders a sandwich or waffles.
OPRF student and budding journalist, Ella Haas has a particular soft spot for George’s.
“My grandma – actually my yia yia, she knew George,” said Haas, 17, who alternates between ordering waffles and skillets. “It has sentimental value to me.”
Casey and Haas have been going to George’s before school on Wednesdays since their freshmen year.
Konstantos cares a lot about the OPRF students.
“I’ve seen them all their lives,” he said. “My wife used to say, ‘They’re not your kids.’”
When kids show up around 9 a.m., Konstantos gets nervous they won’t make it to school on time.
“I called the high school like five years ago, because they were late,” he said. “I called the high school and I’m like, ‘It’s our fault.’”
OPRF didn’t let the late kids off the hook though, Konstantos said.
The kids don’t get rowdy or stiff the waitstaff.
“They tip well; they’re taught well by their parents. They’re polite,” Konstantos said. “They’re a good generation.”
And George’s Restaurant staff always welcomes the kids with open arms.
“They’re really nice. The service is good,” said Chris Ray, 18, who got bacon and scrambled eggs. “I never run out of coffee.”
Ray started coming to George’s mostly to hang out with friends and, of course, eat breakfast.
And George’s makes a mean breakfast. People of all ages can agree on that.
“It’s great food. I got the California omelet with toast,” said OPRF junior Finn McMullen. “It’s really nice to start off your day with a good breakfast with your friends.”
On that particular late arrival Wednesday morning, McMullen was there with a group of five buddies, celebrating friend Graham Eldred’s 17th birthday.
“Lately, us six have been coming here to celebrate our birthdays and also on late arrival days,” said Eldred.
For his birthday breakfast, Eldred got what he always orders at George’s: “three chocolate chip pancakes with butter and syrup on them,” which made him too full to finish the birthday ice cream sundae his waitress brought over.
According to Konstantos, the group of boys have celebrated their birthdays at George’s three years in a row. Their moms come too but sit at a different table.
“They have ice cream at 9:30 in the morning. Three years now in a row,” he said.
George’s is still popular with former OPRF students, who return with friends and catch up over tasty diner fare – just not on late arrival days.
Antonio Cuevas and Talmage Svehla, both 2015 OPRF graduates, are happy to pass on the tradition, letting current students have their special time at George’s early Wednesday mornings.
“We always come after to avoid the rush of high schoolers that come on late arrival,” Svehla said. “I’ll wait until everyone’s gone to get breakfast.”
Svehla’s brother currently attends OPRF and tips them off about late arrivals, Cuevas said.
“Everyone comes here for breakfast. I don’t know why or how it started,” Svehla said. “It’s always packed.”
“You should be at school already but it’s late arrival, so you find something to do that’s fun during the morning because you’re already awake,” Cuevas said.
Konstantos remembers when Cuevas and Svehla were in high school, eating at the diner before school. Many current and former OPRF students have been eating at George’s for years.
“They grew up here. The generation now, I remember when they were born,” he said.
Former, current and future OPRF students are always welcome at the diner, a staple in the Oak Park community.
“I love them,” Konstantos said.
George’s restaurant will welcome and feed OPRF kids any day of the week, but especially on late arrival Wednesdays. Those mornings are special.