Twenty-five years ago, Patrick O'Brien and his sister Bridget Pettinger bought a Forest Park house, at 26 Lathrop Ave., with the intention of converting it into a restaurant. Now, the established restauranteur behind Scratch Restaurant Group (SRG), is returning to his roots to bring that very same property -- formerly the Blue Max -- back to life as Lathrop House Café.
Scratch owns Scratch Kitchen on Madison Street in Forest Park and two eateries in Oak Park.
"It was so long ago when we bought that building," said O'Brien. "I remember kids in cribs in the kitchen. I laugh looking back at those days."
O'Brien and his sister were attracted to the property because it was dually zoned. They built a commercial kitchen on the property and added a large enclosed porch to increase dining space. They named the restaurant The Lathrop House and offered coffee, muffins and sandwiches along with special menu items to a small band of loyal customers.
O'Brien, who served as chef, lived in the apartment above the restaurant. He was young and inexperienced. He recollects having friends over to play video games during business hours. When a customer would arrive, his younger sisters, who were waitresses in the restaurant, would call him down to the kitchen to cook.
"I actually told my friends to pause the game and wait until I was done cooking to finish the game," laughed O'Brien. "It was comical really!"
After three years, O'Brien sold his shares in the business and headed out on his own find his way in the restaurant industry. His sister retains ownership of the building and over the years the house held a Thai restaurant among others before eventually becoming the Blue Max. In May 2019, the Blue Max closed suddenly leaving a void in the Forest Park restaurant scene and paving the way for O'Brien to take over the house once again.
"This is a strange time to start a business, but I have a really good feeling about this one." said O'Brien.
Lathrop House Café is going to fill the same niche the Blue Max provided in Forest Park according to O'Brien. They plan to cover all the breakfast basics like omelets, skillets, pancakes and waffles while still embracing the SRG concept — where everything is done properly and made from scratch.
"We'll be offering seasonal global fusion specials for breakfast and lunch," said O'Brien. "We'll have Latin, Asian and Mediterranean influences."
Most notably, Lathrop House Café will resurrect the coveted scones and latte art beloved by fans of the Blue Max. O'Brien intends to partner with a local craft coffee roaster and will go through a training program to bring a proper cup of coffee to the café.
Additionally, the space will close at 3 p.m. making it a private event venue in the evenings. The easily dividable house will offer spaces suitable for meetings and parties of various sizes. In the future, O'Brien envisions an outdoor dining area with a bar, BBQ pit and pizza oven capable of hosting outdoor birthday parties or small weddings.
In the meantime, O'Brien is focused on freshening up the place with fresh paint and new landscaping.
The Forest Park heath department is scheduled to inspect the property in the coming days. If O'Brien is given the green light to open, he sees no reason Lathrop House Café won't be open in the next 10 to 14 days with a limited menu of coffee and pastries to start.
"I am excited this has become a reality." said O'Brien. "It feels crazy to go back to where I started after 25 years, but now I have the skills to do it right."
Answer Book 2019
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