Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tom's Place Owners Celebrate 15 Years at Historic Eatery

Lasse and Maryjane Sorensen, owners of Tom's Place, arguably the premiere food establishment in Southern Illinois, will celebrate their 15th year as owners of the historic restaurant in 2012. With the anniversary will come additional improvements.

The Southern Illinoisan ran a nice feature Sunday on the former 20s roadhouse. Today, Tom's Place "one of 3,000 worldwide to have earned a Wine Spectator Award and was awarded a five-star Award of Excellence from the North American Restaurant Association."

It's come along way since Tom Endsley opened his place around 1923 one and one-miles north of DeSoto on the hard road that was then Illinois Rt. 2, now U.S. Rt. 51. Fried chicken and frog legs topped the menu then. Now, "the menu will often feature items like guinea fowl, Boston lobsters, oysters from the Pacific Northwest and fish from both coasts."

This year, the Sorensens have many special plans for celebrating 15 years in the business, including special events geared at introducing new customers to Tom's Place by offering a lower price point. A calendar of events for the year will soon be released on the restaurant's website.

Among the highlights are a prime rib night, the annual Easter breakfast buffet, weekly wine dinners, a morel mushroom feast and an evening of Spanish cuisine.

The article didn't have nearly as much history as I would have liked, so here's a bit more from my Bloody Williamson research.

During Prohibition agents raided the roadhouse a few times, but unlike other establishments, Endsley focused on the food and entertainment.

On July 6, 1928, a prohibition agent visited Tom’s Place pretending to be a former druggist wanting to sell his stock of medicinal alcohol to Endsley. After they talked for a while Endsley brought out a couple of beers for the two men to drink.

A few days later a larger group of prohibition agents arrived and confiscated several bottles of “alleged home brew” from his ice book. The Murphysboro paper noted that the “men were socialable, bought cigars and sandwiches for themselves and some patrons who happened to be in there at the time. They called Tom by his first name and were congenially inclined.”

Endsley asked one of the agents why they raided him so much. “We told him he should just sell to his friends.”

In 1929, he advertised "Tom's New Place," though it's not clear if he meant a new location or just a new addition to the building.

The raids didn't bother his business. By the end of the decade he was hosting the Carbondale chapter of the Business & Professional Women's luncheons, as well as regular weekly dinners for bridge clubs. He added a miniature golf course no later than 1930 and three outdoor bowling lanes in 1931.

Endsley sold the restaurant to Joe Moroni in 1940, who took over Sunday morning, Sept. 1. Here's how The Daily Independent in Murphysboro covered it on Aug. 28.

Thomas Endsley, proprietor of the tavern for 17 years, verified reports of the deal today and said that “everything will be turned over to Mr. Moroni next Sunday morning.”

Mr. Endsley spoke of Moroni as an experienced caterer who formerly had the management of The Villa, a tavern not far north in State Route 3 of the Colony Club, near the Cape Girardeau “Y.” He expressed the wish that his patrons continue to favor the tavern of their preference.

Mr. and Mrs. Endsley intend to rest for several months. Then Mr. Endsley will turn his attention to some other pursuit, he said.

“Tom’s Place” was built on its reputation for fried frog legs and chicken, and good management. Mr. Endssey, who has been county supervisor for years from De Soto, for some time had intended to retire from the business. He had erected a splendid home at DeSoto with this in mind and enjoys a 150-acre tract for fishing and hunting in the “wilds” of the strip mine country, which he is developing.

Mr. Endsley said Moroni intends to retrain the present tavern personnel.

Moroni had a long history in the hospitality industry. His father Louis had previously operated the Ozark Resort at Creal Springs in the 1920s and 30s. Before that his father and uncles ran taverns throughout the country both before and during Prohibition.

Moroni ran the restaurant for nearly 28 years until he sold it to F. M. "River" Hewitt in April 1968.

Note: Post corrected on Nov. 6, 2013, changing P. M. Hewitt to F. M. Hewitt, the year of the sale to 1968, and Frank Moroni to his brother Joe Moroni.