Thursday, July 8, 2021

The History of the Town and Country Restaurants in Chicago. (1955-1987)

Tony Smith began his restaurant career with a fortune of $900 ($10,000 today), with a friend as a partner, opening the Kopper Kettle restaurant at Randolph and Dearborn Streets in 1950.

Brothers and co-owners Anthony 'Tony' J. Smith and Ted Smith traveled to research other restaurants in America and Europe with the development of this restaurant in mind.

Town and Country restaurant opened in September 1955 at 5970 North Ridge Avenue, at Peterson Avenue, and Clark Street in Chicago. 

A sign hung in the Town and Country restaurant read: 

The Town and Country restaurant was the winner of the 'Award of Food Service' in May 1956 in a contest judged by over 50 famous professionals in restaurant design, kitchen engineers, and food service consultants, sponsored yearly by the Institutions Magazine. The Town and Country restaurant was the first Chicago restaurant to win this International award in five years. Entries comprised food service establishments from all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
5970 North Ridge Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.

Tony Smith was voted the president of the Chicago Restaurant Association in 1956 and 1957. 

In May 1957, Tony Smith, co-owner, took two months off to tour European continental cafes.

One of the Smith brothers' favorite stories to tell was when a customer ordered cold vichyssoise and, because a waitress goofed, found himself eating a bowl of garlic salad dressing.

When Tony or Ted traveled, many regular patrons of Town & Country would send favorite recipes from faraway places. The Smiths would turn the recipes over to their head chef to try some of the dishes on willing customers.
Ted Smith owned a delightful Courtesy Car similar to this 1931 Chevrolet AE Independence, V8 355 HP 4-Speed Automatic with A/C, complete with a gold velvet interior, pull-down shades at the windows, and running boards. It was quite the conversation starter.

On Monday, December 10, 1956, twenty-five boys and girls from the Angle Guardian orphanage at 2001 West Devon Avenue in Chicago competed in a Christmas tree trimming contest in the Town and Country restaurant at 5970 North Ridge Avenue, Chicago. After the contest, the 25 youngsters and 650 other boys and girls from the orphanage were treated to a cake and ice cream social.

Tony Smith                           Ted Smith
Town and Country grossed more than $1 million annually ($8,915,000 today) for 1957.

The brothers, Tony and Ted, ever inventive, offered a Christmas shopping service in 1961 while people dined. They keep stacks of recent newspapers to provide patrons free ads for clipping, so diners may complete shopping lists at their tables.

The brothers had taken to operating the "Royal Hearth" and the "Imperial Grill" with a partner, Jim Docos, in the new Imperial Inn behind the Congress expressway just west of the river in 1962.
Chicago Tribune, December 8, 1962

The Town and Country restaurant on Ridge Avenue came to the unfortunate aid in June 1962. Its marquee reads: "have an ulcer? Bring your baby food. We'll warm it for you."

Since 1963 the Cafe Chablis (Sha-Blee) at 6510 West North Avenue between Austin and Harlem was owned and operated by one of Chicagoland's better-known restauranteurs, Ted Smith, who incidentally owns Town and Country restaurant on Ridge Avenue.
Chicago Tribune, April 2, 1967

A new Town and Country Xpressway restaurant opened on February 6, 1968, at 1500 West North Avenue at the Kennedy Expressway (I94) just east of Ashland Avenue, "Serving Chicagoland on Wheels."
Chicago Tribune, February 4, 1968

An award-winning impressionistic painting of the forty-foot fireplace by artist Otto Schoeniger was prominently displayed at the new Town and Country Xpressway restaurant. Colorful lithographs of the canvas were presented to dinner guests during the Grand Opening Celebration on Tuesday, February 6, 1968.

This was an exciting new restaurant that offered round-the-clock 24-hour food service. It's convenient, the service was excellent, and the food was great. Situated "midtown" at the gateway to the suburbs, Town and Country Xpressway leis six minutes from downtown Chicago and within minutes of many north, west, and south suburbs. Stop in any hour ... you'll find a complete breakfast menu, businessmen's lunch, complete dinners, and late-night snacks.
Exterior view of the new and beautiful Town and Country Xpressway restaurant, serving you 24 hours a day.

The exterior of this handsome restaurant was reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's imaginative designs, with attractive common brick in contemporary styling. Lush plantings and sweeping picture windows add to the overall beauty. And once you've entered the foyer, you'll be impressed with the same decor. 

With its breathtaking wigwam type high ceiling roof design, the dining room, with a gas-burning fireplace in the center, was the focal point of interest. The main dining room decor was a subtle blend of beige, gold, and orange. Leather booths line the walls, fresh flowers are always on the tables ... and the fabulous 40-foot brick chimney that reaches up to a skylight in the center of the room is an attention-getter.
The dramatic brick chimney in the dining room at Town and Country sweeps up to the unusual wigwam ceiling.

This new Town and Country restaurant was geared toward Kennedy expressway travelers.
The back cover of the new 1968 menu.

Open 24 hours a day, the Town and Country Coffee Shop was an attractive spot anytime or night. Here you can get fast service, fine food, island counters and comfortable booths for dining. The decor was orange, with Chicago common brick walls.

Ted Smith has put a lot of thought into the decor of this restaurant. Beautiful original oil paintings adorn the walls, and some interesting and unusual antique lighting fixtures exist. The foyer boasts a giant square clock that originally hung in a French railroad station, and the dining room has a replica of an old railroad train on the wall.

A restaurant tour finds immaculate kitchens and a bakery shop, where all the loaves of bread and desserts are prepared. Emanating from here, you'll find hot Challah [bread], long loaves of French sourdough bread, homemade ice creams, cookies, cakes, coffee cakes, and fruit pies. The walk-in coolers are filled with choice meats, all butchered and cut in-house. There are cold lockers for salads, seafood, and vegetables, and it's immaculately clean!

Most distinguished restaurants feature specialties of the house, and Town and Country have been acclaimed for its outstanding specials. You'll enjoy Town and Country's Swiss Steak Stew in a Bread Basket, bite-size pieces of swiss steak with gravy in a hollowed-out mini loaf of our freshly baked bread, garnished with cherry tomatoes, a bowl of gravy, and a salad. For late evenings you'll enjoy Crepes filled with grape jelly and topped with orange and lemon rind slivers in a Grand Marnier sauce. 

Forget calories and try the Town and Country famous Baked Alaska ice cream pie with your choice of hot fudge, strawberry, honey rum, caramel, or brandied cherry topping. We make ice cream in-house. Besides our Baked Alaska, other best-selling desserts included German chocolate cake and our Chocolate rum whipped cream cake. These are but a few of the many outstanding house specials offered.

Breakfasts at Town and Country were reasonably priced, and there's a wide selection. For as little as $1.20, you can get an egg, sausage or bacon, hash brown potatoes, juice, and a beverage. The breakfast menu was extensive and included such favorites as Eggs Benedict, Shirred eggs, French Toast, pancakes, and cereals. Brunch was served on Sundays from 10 am to 1:30 pm. 

The menu changes daily. You'll find at least five entrees in addition to the regular menu, including juice or seasonal fresh fruit, Danish coffee cake, sweet roll (about 8 or 9 inches), buttered toast, or English muffin (served with egg orders), and a beverage.

Lunches are served, and here again, the menu changes daily. You'll find crisp salads, hot and cold sandwiches, and our famous Xpressway Burgers.

Diners at Town and Country were served every night in the dining room until 12 midnight. On weekends until 2 am. The dinner menu features such favorites as Roast Sirloin of Beef au jus with Yorkshire pudding, Beefeaters Broil, a tasty sirloin butt steak with French fried onion rings, broiled York sirloin steak, freshly broiled Whitefish with amandine butter, pepper steak, pan-fried chicken, and many others. Every entree was cooked to order. Complete dinners included soup or appetizer, salad, potato and vegetable, beverage, and dessert. Prices start as low as $2.95. Children's portions under 10 years old, 50¢ less.

Stop in for a night owl snack if you're on your way home from the theater or a night on the town. Prices were moderate, and the food was divine. A favorite late-night dish was the French onion soup fondue served with a melted cheese cap. Our bar serves excellent giant-size cocktails, domestic and imported beers, and wines if you want a nightcap.

In the foyer at Town and Country was a retail counter that featured our baked on-premises; cookies, cakes, coffee cakes, pies, candies, eclairs, and many other sweet delicacies. Even their famous baked Alaska ice cream pie was available to take home.

Town and Country had a great slogan; 'SPA' service, price, and atmosphere. The atmosphere was unusually charming, the prices were right, and the service was always excellent.

An exhibit of photographs of Lake Michigan yachts by Dr. Grant H. Johnson will be on display from May 24, 1970, thru June 1 in the Town and Country restaurant on Ridge Avenue.

Dinners are willing to give up cake and caviar during these days of advancing prices, but not steak and lobster. At least this is the conclusion to Ted Smith, proprietor of Town and Country restaurants at 5970 North Ridge Avenue and 1500 West North Avenue in Chicago. 

Following the format of many restaurants to defeat rising costs, Mr. Smith changed table d'hote dinners at his Town and Country Xpressway on North Avenue to semi-a la carte. He eliminated appetizers and dessert from the former complete fixed-price dinner and now offers the main course at a lower cost than on the complete dinner, including salad, sourdough bread, a vegetable, and a beverage.

Instead of cost-conscious customers turning to the least expensive entrees or main dishes, he finds patrons ordering more lobster tails [at $4.95 semi-a la carte] and sirloin butt steak [at $4.45 semi-a la carte] than ever.

However, table d'hote dinners still prevail at the Town and Country on Ridge Avenue, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this month. During the birthday month, Mr. Smith offers guests in both restaurants a glass of champagne with dinner and a bakery gift to take home.
                                                                                         —Chicago Tribune, October 16, 1970

The "Action Express" column in the Chicago Tribune of October 27, 1970, has a Q & A about Town and Country on Ridge Avenue.
Q —I recently took relatives to the Town and Country on Ridge Avenue and I ordered one of those combination fruit salads. All I was served was one scoop of cottage cheese and a few pieces of fruit. For this, I was charged $2.85! I didn't want to embarrass the kinfolk; so I didn't growl at the manager until later. He said I should have groped immediately. I then complained to the restaurant owner, and he merely invited me to return and see what a fruit plate looks like. He simply told me I could look at a fruit plate. How ridiculous it would be for me to spend bus fare to see what I should have been served but wasn't. Shouldn't the public know about this kind of outrageous fleecing?
                                                                                                                 —Vera, Chicago

A —David Wright, the restaurant's general manager, took your problem to three dining room employees. They told him you had asked that certain food be deleted from the "award-winning fruit plate" and that others be substituted. The employee told Wright your special order was filled, even tho the restaurant has a "no substitutes policy." You were charged the regular price, Wright said. "Special orders to the kitchen in any restaurant are 'risky' at best," he added. We didn't get a free fruit plate for you, but we have saved you bus fare by sending you a full-color photo of the usual Town and Country fruit plate. Hope you enjoy viewing it.

Chicago Tribune, February 6, 1971

Mr. Smith carefully monitors how many diners come into the two restaurants daily. So when the 10 millionth guest walked into the Town and Country on Ridge Avenue recently, it was a signal for celebration. Champagne was poured for all diners present, and the surprised 10 millionth one—Martin Lowery, professor of history at De Paul University—was presented with a gold credit card for meals gratis in Town and Country for a year, including lobster and steak dinners that night for Mr. and Mrs. Lowery, plus roses and an elaborately decorated cake for her. It was the first visit there for the Lowerys, who went on to recommendation of friends.

So that the Town and Country on North Avenue would not be out of it, identical awards were given there to the 10 millionth and 1 diner. He turned out to be a printer, John Shubeck of Arlington Heights, who had arrived with his wife to celebrate their 28th wedding anniversary.

Incidentally, Marie Adler, the waitress who served the Lowerys, was on hand to serve the first customers at the Town and Country on Ridge when Mr. Smith and his late brother, Tony, opened the restaurant 15 years ago.
                                                                                                 —Chicago Tribune, April 1, 1971

Ted Smith's Town and Country restaurant on Ridge has curtailed its hours and will be open all night only on Fridays and Saturdays, while the North Avenue spot remains open around the clock.
                                                                                          —Chicago Tribune, January14, 1976

Clark Ridge Restaurant, Inc. and Ted Smith, its president, and treasurer, were charged Wednesday with failing to pay $11,000 in Illinois state sales taxes.

Smith, of 1036 Hubbard Drive, Wilmette, and his corporation operate the Town and Country restaurant, 5970 North Ridge Avenue.

The complaint, filed in Circuit Court, charges that the corporation failed to report $230,000 ($1,090,000 today) worth of sales from November 1974 through June 1975 to avoid paying sales tax.

If convicted, Smith and the corporation could be fined $8,000 ($4,000 each) in addition to paying the $11,000 owed, and Smith could serve up to six months in jail.
                                                                                 —Chicago Tribune, Thursday, July 1, 1976

The shuttered Town and Country (April 1980) restaurant at 5970 N. Ridge Avenue is expected to reopen in about six weeks (in June 1980) as Chris Carson's third Carsons Ribs restaurant. 

Sometime between May and November 1987, the Town and Country Xpressway restaurant was closed, and their marquee read: "For Lease." A Restaurant and Bar Auction was held on Thursday, April 6, 1989, at 11 am to liquidate all furniture, fixtures, and kitchen hardware, run by the Business Auction Liquidators Co., from Chicago.

Today, the location is home to the Mercedes-Benz of Chicago dealership.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale. Ph.D.


  1. I love memories & old pictures thank you Neil

  2. Very well researched and presented! I love my memories of time spent there! You have shared information on the restaurant that I never knew! The Town and Country is so representational of a specific time and place...

  3. Dr. Lowery taught at DePaul University which was about a 10 minute drive east of the North Ave. T&C. I took a couple history courses with him, ca. 1966. I was a friend of his son Marty who also attended DePaul. Between classes we would socialize with others, drink coffee and sometime eat in the cafeteria of the then-new, multi-use Alumni Hall. I don't think any of us could afford to eat at T&C, even with its daily specials !

  4. As my family lived less that 5 minutes (still do!) from the Ridge location, I have great memories of special dinners at T&C. Thanks for sharing about this special restaurant!

  5. I remember the Kennedy/North location as Fuddruckers in the 90s and early 2000s. I never went inside, however, and I wonder if that amazing fireplace was still there. I also never went inside the Ridge location when it was Carson's, because by the time I moved here it was already closed. Thanks for this really cool history... I never knew about Town & Country, and wish I had a chance to check it out when it was here.

  6. I remember when we were growing up, Mom & Dad would take us to the Expressway restaurant for special occasions (Mother's Day, Birthdays), or just because. We love, love, loved it. So sad to see it go.

    1. What I miss most are the 9" Danish sweet rolls, instead of toast. Nine inches and centered with fresh fruit. No extra charge.

  7. I was a junior baker at T & C, 1974-1976, with Renata, Lorenzo, and our head baker Ludwig Engelhardt. Lived in the neighborhood on Thome. Just moved back to Chicago. Sad to see it had been gone so long. Thank you Dr. Gale for the memories


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