Daley’s, Chicago’s oldest restaurant and iconic eatery in Woodlawn, closes in on long-awaited move into new era
By Erick Johnson
The marquee on 63rd street went up last week. Its design is in stark contrast to the square red, black and yellow marquee that has invited patrons into Daley’s Restaurant for decades. Another marquee at the main entrance around the corner has an even bigger presence amid the hustle and bustle of the Cottage Grove Green Line station.
Any day now, the owners of the iconic restaurant will announce the official move-in date for Daley’s, Chicago oldest restaurant and an institution in the Black community. For the first time in 126 years, Daley’s will move to a new location and usher in a new era in the restaurant’s storied history.
When Schaller’s Pump, in Bridgeport, closed in 2017 after 136 years of service Daley’s became the oldest restaurant in Chicago. Berghoff’s, the prominent German restaurant that obtained the city’s first restaurant liquor license, is the second oldest with 120 years of service.
In the coming weeks, Daley’s, the king of Chicago’s restaurants will open in a 5,900 square space across the street at the new $29.4 million Woodlawn Station, a mixed-use affordable housing development on the northeast corner of 63rd Street and Cottage Grove. Daley’s will anchor the 70-unit complex along with Ain’t She Sweet Café, an eatery with additional locations in Bronzeville and Beverly.
But the most anticipated opening is that of Daley’s Restaurant in its new space.
Since Daley’s made the announcement in September 2017, excited employees and customers have been counting down the days while experiencing a string of delays. Daley’s will move into the complex as part of a deal with the Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), which purchased Daley’s building and the space of six neighboring businesses for an undisclosed price. Some of the businesses have since been renovated.
Established in 1892, the restaurant has grown to become a neighborhood institution in the Chicago community. It’s currently owned by George Kyrios and co-owner Mike Zee, whose family bought it in 1918. The restaurant was founded by John Daley, a young Irish immigrant who sold food to construction laborers who were working on Chicago’s green line, the 1983 World’s Fair and the University of Chicago.
With urban renewal in full swing in Woodlawn, the economic climate today is similar to that of 1892. Daley’s is set to capitalize on the impending construction of the Obama Presidential Center and Library and a major multi-million dollar makeover of the green line CTA station on Cottage Grove.
In 2017, Redfin real estate service reported that between February and July, home values in Woodlawn went up by 23 percent, the third highest increase in estimated home values compared to that of its metro area in the country. By comparison, home values elsewhere in Chicago saw a 4.6 percent increase.
POAH officials hope Daley’s new location will help promote Woodlawn’s urban renewal by generating fresh traffic in the new shopping center while boosting its profile. Zee’s family bought it in 1918. The restaurant was considered a “hole in the ground” until 1937 when Zee’s family saved up enough money to reopen the restaurant with 16 stools and seven booths. The family steered Daley’s in the 1960s when Blacks clashed with whites, before whites fled Woodlawn in droves.
Today, Daley’s is a community institution where many regulars are known by their first name. The eatery is usually packed with regulars and families who can’t get enough of gobbling down Daley’s down-home breakfast and soul food in an easygoing atmosphere.
Despite its family atmosphere, vintage décor, black and white photos of celebrities and prominent Chicago notables, longtime employees have grown tired of the cramped space, small bathrooms and aging facility at 809 East 63rd Street.
In a story last year, the Crusader, citing one news report said Zee, Daley’s co-owner plans to bring the restaurant’s pictures. Sources tell the Crusader that the restaurant’s old booths and wooden tables will not be in the new location.
A Crusader reporter visited the site several days before this story. A laborer was installing Daley’s new marquee, a round, retro-looking black and white sign on 63rd street, almost directly across from the current location. The interior was still empty. There were no chairs or tables inside the new location, but one could see the brick patterned walls.
During a visit to Daley’s on Wednesday, January 2, many Daley employees were wearing new Black and white T-Shirts and hoodies that match the Daley’s new marquee.
The new Daley’s restaurant has experienced several delays. Daley’s was scheduled to move into its new space
in mid-November. Then the date
was pushed back to mid-December. Sources told the Crusader that Daley’s was to have a grand-reopening on Thursday, January 17.
“That date too has moved,” said POAH spokesperson Brian Berg on December 27. “We will have a new date in a week or so. And yes, a celebration. As soon as the new date is settled, I’ll let you know.”
In December, the Crusader emailed Berg, asking him about the delays in Delay’s relocation. He wrote, “I would suggest that you and/or employees speak directly with the owner of Daley’s Restaurant. The delays have nothing to do with the building or the build out. You might recall that residents moved into the apartment section of this transit oriented development, starting last summer. Daley’s Restaurant has equipment on order that they have not been able to get. It is equipment that is specific to their business and has nothing to do with construction or operation of the building.”
Efforts to reach Zee were unsuccessful as of press time Wednesday.