NBC Weatherman Returns to the Pancake Cafe to Celebrate 10th Anniversary
Andy Avalos, who owned and operated the restaurant from 2000 to 2005, and current owner Paul Chialdikas hosted the special event Saturday, Dec. 4.
When meteorologist Andy Avalos returned to the Pancake Cafe on Saturday, he said it was as if he never left.
Avalos, the current weekday morning weatherman for NBC Chicago, opened the Pancake Cafe, 1264 State St., in 2000 after more than 20 years in broadcast news. During his time in Lemont, he turned the restaurant into a local gem, serving quality breakfast items with a hometown touch.
Though he sold the restaurant in 2005 to current Lemont Trustee Paul Chialdikas, Avalos remained a loyal patron and active supporter of the restaurant. On Saturday, Dec. 4, he returned to Lemont to mark the 10th anniversary of the Pancake Cafe.
"It's like putting on an old pair of jeans," Avalos said. "The same customers are here, the same employees – it's like stepping back into the time I was here running the restaurant."
When the Pancake Cafe opened 10 years ago, Lemont was "desperate" for a quality, family-style breakfast restaurant, Avalos said.
"When we opened, this became a destination restaurant," he said. "People would drive from all over and wait sometimes 45 minutes to eat."
For Avalos, the Pancake Cafe served as a much-needed break from his long career in communications. He said he enjoyed taking on the challenges of the restaurant business and being able to "develop something from nothing."
However, Avalos returned to NBC in 2003, meaning he was splitting his time between the restaurant and the downtown Chicago station. In 2005, almost by chance, he received a letter from Chialdikas, a longtime patron of the restaurant.
"We received this very short letter from Paul that basically said, 'I've been to the restaurant many times, and if you're interested in selling I am willing to buy,'" Avalos said. "At that time, I wasn't in the market to sell, so I put the letter in the safe and forgot about it."
Not long after, Avalos came upon the letter again. This time, he arranged a meeting with Chialdikas. The two talked over coffee about business, family and Lemont, and eventually Avalos agreed to sell.
"I think it came at a good time for both of us because I was in a situation where I was burning out from working a lot at the station and trying to be here, and Paul was looking for something that would allow him to spend more time with his family," Avalos said.
Despite some hesitation about buying a restaurant, Chialdikas said he got along so well with Avalos that he knew taking over the Pancake Cafe would be a good decision.
"I vowed never to own a restaurant because I knew the lifestyle growing up, but I met with Andy and it felt right," Chialdikas said in an September interview with Patch.
The restaurant is still alive and well five years later, providing the same warm, small-town atmosphere to a loyal base of customers.
"The fact that we're all here in 2010 serving pancakes and coffee to the people of Lemont, that's an accomplishment and a true testament to the job Paul has done," Avalos said.
Lemont resident Michelle Savas is a longtime patron of the Pancake Cafe, frequenting the restaurant nearly every week for the past 10 years.
"We love Andy, we love Paul, we love the restaurant," Savas said. "That's the great thing about this place – we know them and they know us. You can't say that about too many places anymore."
Chialdikas said he continues to be grateful for the customers who have carried the restaurant through the difficult economy.
"It's hard, but we're doing the best we can and we'll keep doing that," he said. "We're just excited about this anniversary and the fact that Andy was able to come out and share this with us."
For Avalos, the Pancake Cafe continues to be what he originally intended: a business dedicated to serving and embodying the Lemont community.
"I first fell in love with this town for the beauty of the hills and churches and spires," he said, pointing to a giant oil-painting of the village that spans the back wall of the restaurant. "This restaurant, for me, is Lemont, and Paul has done an incredible job maintaining that feeling."