Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Busy Bee Restaurant, 1546-50 North Damen Avenue in Chicago, Illinois (1913-1998).

One of my Dad's offices (he was an optometrist) was on the ground floor of the Tower building at North, Milwaukee, and Damen Avenues in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.
He knew the owner of the Busy Bee Restaurant, Sophia Madej, very well. She would stop by his office and give my Dad the homemade soup of the day (the beet borscht was to die for), a few dozen different kinds of Pierogi's, and sometimes some other Polish specialties Sophia made that day as a care package for my Mom. I loved the Busy Bee because Sophia treated me just like her own family, perhaps even better.
The restaurant had numerous visits by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, both Mayor Daley's, Senator Edward Kennedy, and lots of other local big-wig political figures. Walk-in and most likely there were some big sports stars eating there. With so many recognizable people eating at the restaurant, Officers Bill Jaconetti (right) and Al Kohl (left) stopped in many times a day (their beat) to check on Sophie and the Busy Bee restaurant.
The Busy Bee has been a Near Northwest Side mainstay since 1913 when the area was predominantly Polish, and the restaurant was known as the Oak Room. No one knows for sure when the restaurant was renamed, but it was long before the Madej's bought it in 1965. The restaurant closed in June 1998.
The Closing of the Busy Bee Restaurant.


Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. The Busy Bee was excellent. Great food prepared by real people that knew how to cook Old World Style. The company I worked for had a warehouse directly behind it and sometimes we would eat at the Busy Bee four or five times a week.

  2. I used to visit Chicago quite frequently back in the 80's and 90's, often for business. A company that I often collaborated with there was run by two brothers who loved good food. During one such visit they took me to the Busy Bee — I thought it was awesome.

    We dined at the counter during what was a busy lunch hour. The entire time it felt as if the two Chicago cops (not likely those in the photo above) who were dining on the other side of the counter island from us were staring directly at me. Both of my hosts noticed this as well. Perhaps this had to do with the fact that my hosts both dwarfed me, likely outweighing me by at least 100 pounds each. Or it might have been due to me putting away every bit as much food as each of my hosts did.

    It's a shame that this place is no longer around, but I'm grateful to have experienced it.

  3. It was a diner,nothing hotsy totsy,Lol

  4. you did not eat there .. that was the beauty of it it was a AMAZIN DINER because of the people who ran it and the people who ate there

  5. Lived just off Division on Hoyne in the early 1980s; the Busy Bee was the greatest spot in the neighborhood with the greatest mix of people. My girlfriend (and then wife) and I were, at the time, a couple of punk bohemians and we always had the best time at the Bee; we were welcomed with a generosity of spirit.

  6. I went to school at the New Way Barber College 1978-1979 when the Busy Bee a thriving business everybody went to the Busy Bee if you wanted a decent lunch in that neighborhood. The neighborhood was tough. You didn’t want to be out there after 9.00 pm unless you knew
    someone , I knew someone the owners
    Sophie,, Hank Sr , Hank Jr , and Chester the youngest Son and the Daughter Liz was always so kind . Hank Sr let me work the Service bar
    From 6-9 when I got off of school after working 9-5 and driving from the suburbs . They gave me a hot meal along with 6.00 bucks an hour which I was grateful for it got me through school for that whole year without them. I don’t know how I would’ve made it. I had no money I worked for next to nothing for school just tips and I was able to eat there and had a wonderful time they were so good to me. I will never forget the kindness I received from that whole family, the most decent people in the world. God rest, her soul, Sophie she was an angel from heaven,. Her son Chester was very dear to me, watched over me. I was only a young girl with a dream. Thanks to them. I was able to make my dream come true. The food was always outstanding. Everything was done top-notch European style I know because I’m European. Forever thanks to the whole family.
    Love Sonja

  7. That place was classic Chicago. Authentic. Working class ethnic food. You will never get that back in this era of homogeneity. It can’t be replicated and franchised. If you were a regular your waitress was liable to have your coffee in front of you before you had your coat off. Great memories. If you thought that place was nothing special you’ll love Denny’s. What a great rich history this city enjoys. The best.


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