The Soul of Jeri’s Grill

The boomerang formica tabletop tells the story of Jeri’s Grill, 4357 N. Western Ave.

The corner diner is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

People keep coming back. They always do.

Frank DiPiero owns the 24-hour diner. His father Anice opened the restaurant, across the street from Welles Park. Anice DiPiero died 13 years ago. So why is it called Jeri’s?

“It is a mystery to customers, the people who work here,” DiPiero says during a conversation along the yellow squiggly counter. “My sister’s name was Gerri Ann. But my Dad named it with a ‘J’ because he thought people would say ‘Gary.’ He had a lot of businesses he named after us. You find all walks of life here. There will be a man in a suit, there will be a homeless person.”

People keep coming back to Jeri’s, which seats 47.

Waitress Vickie Curtis has been working at Jeri’s since 2000. She displays a large tattoo of her son Kevin above her left breast. All walks of life can see it.

In 2008 Kevin was stabbed to death in front a sports bar at Leland and Rockwell. He was 20 years old. Curtis had the tattoo made two days after his wake. He was murdered on Sept. 28. The killers have not been found.

Every year on Sept. 28 Vickie Curtis returns to to the corner of Leland and Rockwell.

People keep coming back.

The boomerang counter seats 15 people east to west. DiPiero, 46, says, “A night cook told me once about 10 years ago, ‘Don’t ever change the counter top. People like that.’ He was right.”

Jeri’s appreciates individuality. The diner does not have a television set, but it has a jukebox along the east wall. Near the jukebox is a copy of the WLS SIlver Dollar Survey from Jan. 25, 1963 with top charting Rooftop Singers single “Walk Right In,” a good tune for a spunky diner.

“People come here to talk,” DiPiero said. “People come here to listen.”

A calendar on the wall on the way to the bathroom is set to September, 1963 with a black and white photo of hipster saint David Janssen as the original “Fugitive,” which debuted that fall. No one has a problem with seeing a calendar from 1963.

One cook wanted to create  “Kit Kat Pudding.” No problem. One of the house favorites is the “Jailhouse Special” (fried bologna with two eggs, hash browns and toast, $4.75), because it is popular in prisons. The sign behind the counter says a quart of “chile” can be had for $7. No one bothers to change the spelling. Maybe they are fans of Chilean writer Pablo Neruda.

Jeri’s Grilll, after all, is urban poetry in motion.

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