After 30 years, Prairie Joe’s is closing its doors on Central Street. Aydin Dincer, the owner, decided to close due to family obligations – it was too hard to run the restaurant and spend time with his family.
“I had to make a decision, a big one,” he said. While Prairie Joe’s may be closing, Dincer hopes to still offer the Evanston community his famous casseroles and soups to-go at a smaller location after taking a few months off for the first time in three decades.
When Dincer decided to start Prairie Joe’s, he knew he wanted it to be different from the average restaurant. He had moved to Chicago originally to study art but when he needed to make money, he turned back to cooking, as he had experience in fine dining.
Dincer worked to find a balance between a corner diner and art – he slowly got into painting and began selling his creations in the restaurant. In the beginning, he would have different themes which grew the collection of vintage knickknacks. Over the years, the restaurant has featured an Evanston kitchen museum, a stereo corner and film projects, as Dincer brought in different eras of history.
A new owner will be taking over the restaurant, but it will be redesigned and have a new name and menu. Dincer said the look will be younger and more contemporary for the changing audience, but the classic charm of Prairie Joe’s is what sustained the business since it opened in the 1990s.
“My customers aged with me,” he said. “Many of my customers I have known for 30 years, they have had kids and their kids have had kids and now come to visit us too.”
Dincer was at Prairie Joe’s every day, seven days a week, as he worked behind the counter bringing out dishes and tending to the needs of the restaurant. His wife, Diane Dincer-Ubl, and their children, Yasmin and Joe Dincer-Ubl, made it a family business.
Over the years the menu changed a bit, but some key popular dishes remained, such as lamb patties, soups and now, casseroles.
“I cook my dishes like I do my art, in my style,” he said. “I think people responded well to that. Every day was special, I really liked what I was doing. People never thought of us as pretentious, we were a unique corner diner selling food and art, the place was never more than what it was.”
Dincer explained that he has been saying goodbye to Evanston for the last month as residents have been stopping by for one last bowl of chili, milkshake or sloppy joe.
“I think what differentiated us from other places was that we just became a part of people’s routines,” he said. “We didn’t try to be the best, we were just who we were. I am very thankful to my customers, many of them I even became friends with.”
From noon to 4 p.m. this Tuesday through Thursday, Oct. 26-28, Prairie Joe’s, at 1921 Central St., will be hosting a farewell open house with snacks and space for Evanstonians to share their memories of the restaurant.
All knickknacks and artwork will be for sale along with other items from the restaurant, as the space has to be cleared by the end of the month.
It was the best place to just hang out and have a cup of tea with my father hanging on the wall in front of me. It’s the best way to remember him he just like being there.
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