Dan and Diana Lauber making memories, with their grandchildren Vivian and Nathan, at Gina’s Italian Ice in Berwyn. (PROVIDED)

Both opened in 1977 and, amazingly, they are living long, prospering, and still serving adventurous tasty delights.

Unbeknownst to one another, Starship Restaurant (on Madison Street, west of Desplaines in Forest Park) and Gina’s Italian Ice (on Roosevelt Road just east of Oak Park Avenue in Berwyn) have survived and thrived through recessions and COVID-19 for 45 years.

They’ve flourished for so long not only thanks to the high quality of their food and service, but also due to the relations they’ve built with their customers and the family they’ve built with employees. Gina and her son Patrick have maintained a “community board” with hundreds of customer photos. They know it so well that Gina was able to actually retrieve the photo of my wife and me with two of our grandchildren that she snapped more than a decade ago.

And they’ve innovated — not easy for an Italian ice shop! In addition to a beautifully-voiced server who serenaded customers with song (she’s since moved on to college), Gina’s Italian Ice has introduced some innovative flavors, particularly the extraordinarily tasty horchata that Patrick concocted a few years ago.

Starship, affectionately known as “Starship Submarine,” successfully survived a lawsuit from Paramount Pictures over the restaurant’s name (ironically, it was actually named after the rock group Jefferson Starship). Owners Paul and Henry continue to offer not only a huge array of soups (the French Onion and Good Ol’ Chicken Noodle are so well prepared and delicious that you think you’re dining at a $50-a-plate restaurant) but a constantly evolving assortment of innovative daily specials. During the COVID winters, they offered Shepherd’s Pie and other hot dinner meals like Henry’s Mother’s Meatloaf for weekend dinner pickup at a bargain price.

Their regular dishes are quite an eye-opener too. Frankly, their Italian beef (cheesy or not) puts both Buona and Johnny’s to shame with its tenderness and flavor. The “Mean Meatball” is another revelation. And all those subs named after Star Trek icons … take your pick. And the turkey … they catered Thanksgiving for us and the turkey was the tenderest we’d ever eaten. (Tip: Ask for the free homemade chips that come with your dining-in sandwich to be reheated — you’ll thank me for that.)

But it’s the relationships with staff and customers that really stands out and lasts. One former employee who left about seven years ago to become an EMT and now a nurse at Rush Oak Park, is getting married in Ireland later this year. She’s asked one of Starship’s owners to walk her down the aisle (her father is no longer with us). That’s real family at a business and the affection the staff and owners have for each other and their customers is palpable.

So in this day and age of faceless and heartless dining chains, check out Gina’s Italian Ice and Starship Restaurant. And if it’s been years since you’ve enjoyed their offerings, give them a fresh visit. The food offerings have only gotten better and better during their four and a half decades of serving the Oak Park area.

Here’s to another 45 years for Starship and Gina’s! May they continue to live long and prosper.

Dan Lauber is a resident of River Forest.

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