Outstanding food, delicious coffee were their hallmarks
Rici’s Restaurant at 418 S. Main St. in Princeton was the most popular restaurant in all of Bureau County. They had a huge clientele of customers.
Their food was outstanding, and superb menus changed every day beginning with breakfasts of all types and kinds, special noon meals with plate lunches, and evening specials and dinners on different days. They had a restaurant association AAA rating!
Larry and Elinor Rici started in the restaurant business Aug. 1, 1948. They bought the building and restaurant business from George and Madge Schneider.
The restaurant had a terrific out-of-town business as Routes 6 and 34 – the two main routes, went right through the business district downtown. Travelers would stop for meals and visit the town.
Many travelers told Rici that stopping to eat there was planned as part of their trips through Princeton. Rici’s and the city of Princeton received many testimonial letters on the fantastic meals from people on their way to and from Chicago.
They also made especial mention of the beautiful elm trees that dominated each street here in Princeton – especially on their entrance into town coming into Elm Place with its “cathedral” effect of the trees arching over the street for six blocks – thrilling!
Rici’s had many best-selling dishes, and it is hard to name any one special. They were known for their homemade pies and rice puddings. In 1950, U.S. choice prime rib dinner was $1.35; in 1964, porter house steak was $4.75 and sirloin beef was $2.15.
It was known as a wonderful family place to eat. They were known mostly for their delicious selections from the steam table, too, not just the kinds of fried foods that you find today.
Mother’s Day was the busiest day of the year, with people standing in line to get in.
Needless to say, it was a BIG meeting place every day for local coffee drinkers. So much so, in fact, that a lot of the businessmen would gather every morning at 10 a.m., and afternoon at 3 p.m., for their get-together sort of coffee clutch.
About 1961, Larry came up with an unusual idea for his coffee drinkers. Four businessmen – Stanley Brown and Harlow Brown Jr., of the Tribune Printing across the street from Rici’s; Max Morel, tinner, and Jim English of Princeton Gas Co. met at those times most weekdays for coffee. Gradually other businessmen joined them until there were 12 to 15 each day.
It was at this point Rici decided he would buy a special cup for each one. He then contacted Mary Win Walter, Princeton artist, to paint a picture depicting each man’s business or hobby in color with his name and “Coffee at Rici’s” on each cup. Larry called them mugs!
By the time he finally had things arranged, the coffee club mushroomed to 25 to 50 members each day. The mugs had to be in a place where they would be easily reached, Rici decided. So he called Cliff Jolley of Jolley Lumber Co. and arranged to have shelves built to hold 63 mugs.
All members did not come each coffee break, but averaged eight to 14 times each day. The coffee boys flipped coins, and the loser paid each session for the entire group. That went on for many months!
The coffee cups were most interesting. Stan Brown, printer, had a proof press painted; Harlow Brown, a printing press; Harlow Brown Sr., former postmaster, a canceled stamp; Roger Swan, high school teacher, a math insignia; state’s attorney Don Martin, a scale of justice; banker George Linder, a piggy bank with loose coins; Jim English of Princeton Gas Co., a gas flame; High Skinner, sports editor of the Bureau County Republican, a fish on a line; Louis Cassidy, barber, a man in a barber chair with bowl over his head with barber shears; Max Morel, sheet metal worker, a tin roof and golf clubs; Don Kerns, car dealer, Cadillac car; John Walters, commercial director at Princeton High School, a math book; and Art Bouxsein, athletic referee, a whistle and basketball.
They were Mary Win’s ideas and went over very big! She also made one for Larry and Elinor Rici as host and hostess.
Some of the early waitresses were Irene Jaskowiak, Romaine Morris, Irene Bunch and Opal Skaggs. Joanne Devers and others came later.
Typical evening dinners included grilled porterhouse steaks with mushroom sauce, $2.65; grilled filet mignon with sauce, $2.40; grilled boneless sirloin steak with sauce, $2.15; and special club steak grilled, $1.90.
Special plate lunches were browned beef hash, 70 cents; creamed halibut steak on toast, 70 cents; special vegetable dinners with tomato slices, also 70 cents. Homemade potato soup was 15 cents; pickled herring cocktail, 40 cents; fresh shrimp cocktail or salad, 60 cents. All pies were 15 cents and ala mode was 10 cents extra. Ice cream was 10 cents and sundaes were 15 cents.
Many people from all walks of life ate at Rici’s. There was one little Englishman who drove his Mercedes every afternoon from Hollowayville for a late afternoon or evening meal. He had a shock of white hair and was a true-blue Englishman – “bloody” this and “bloody” that – in his conversation. He was George Westwood, retired from the Hammond Organ Co., Chicago, as a metallurgist – technician of alloys.
He was an absolute delight to visit with, and we became great friends. I had many occasions where we sat and talked waiting for our meal and then visited afterward over coffee. He was a wonderful conversationalist and had the stories to tell of England and his work at the Hammond Organ Co., many of which I still remember to this day. Indeed, he had that “distinct” English “brogue.”
Rici’s, without a doubt, had the “best coffee in town” – a special brew of Continental Coffee with Princeton’s superb good water, had a winner. It was a homey type of restaurant, and Larry always had a smile and was eager to please any and all of his customers, and Elinor was eager to help and please with any suggestions from their vast menus.
I had many meals every week at Rici’s. One of my favorite dishes was Larry’s unique way of preparing minced ham and scrambled eggs. He also had many other “concoctions” in his beautiful stainless steel kitchen; some that were his own secret recipes were chili and his chili con carne – large bowl 55 cents. They made their own pies – apple, hot mince, cherry, banana and coconut cream, to mention a few.
Other excellent meal dishes were his German-style pot roast and egg noodles for $1.80; roast prime ribs of beef-au-jus for $2.75; roast young tom turkey with cranberry and dressing, $1.80 (these were full meals!); fried filet of sole with tartar sauce, $2.25 – these were special Sunday dinners that were long with mashed or candied sweet potatoes, buttered peas and a salad bar along with a beverage.
In time, they bought the next building south from Pete Janos and expanded and remodeled to twice the size in 1959. The day they reopened after remodeling, there was a terrible accident right in front of their building. Seems as though state police were chasing a motorist on Route 34, and the driver of a speeding car happened to exceed the speed limit and get scared of being chased – going through towns at a high rate of speed. Finally reaching Princeton, the driver was corralled by city police in front of Rici’s place, where the altercation was halted. The driver was seriously injured; no one else was hurt.
Most every day, they had many busy moments. Their coffee club, which met most every day, they had many regular customers. With their pies, and desserts and their superb coffee, is why they had top business and the most popular place to dine and meet and make new friends.
Radio station WZOE had a “Coffee at Rici’s” program for a while – conversing with some of the coffee and office workers during their “break.”
The big coffee club people who frequented the place very day also had a “respect ritual” – whenever anyone passed away, their cup was turned upside down. Maurice Bouxsein was one of the first ones to have that honor.
The business thrived for many years, ceasing operations in 1966. It truly was one of the GREAT businesses on Main Street in Princeton – OUT OF THE PAST!
Note to readers: Bill Lamb, who died in 2013, wrote this story for his “Out of the Past” series with the Bureau County Republican in June 1988. It and the accompanying photos taken by Lamb were retrieved from the archives of the Bureau County Historical Society, which granted its permission to republish them.