Popular with families, people visiting Rockford, healthy eaters and college kids returning home on break; Beefaroo, a staple of the Rockford restaurant scene recently celebrated 50 years of business.
The locally owned eatery hosted birthday parties at three of its seven stores to celebrate this milestone. Melissa Pratt, who co-owns Beefaroo with her siblings, says the family looks forward to the future with the same hard work and innovation that has made their business ‘Famously Delicious’ for a half century.
Perhaps best known for their hot roast beef sandwiches and western themed mascot, the first Beefaroo stores opened in March of 1967 and were initially owned by Pratt’s parents,
“Our parents wanted to own their own business, so they bought the Eleventh Street and Five Points stores from a local gentleman and started with those locations,” she said.
Now, there are seven Beefaroo locations around Rockford, Roscoe, Loves Park and Machesney Park.
About 12 years ago, Pratt and her siblings: Chris Bergsten, Nick DeBruler and Roberta Esparza bought the company from their parents.
“We all grew up at Beefaroo,” Pratt said. “All of my siblings and I worked at Beefaroo on and off during high school, we all went away to college and after finishing college, I decided that I wanted to work here and my siblings followed suit.”
To keep a restaurant business alive and flourishing for 50 years takes innovation, dedication and a whole lot of hard work; qualities at which Pratt and her siblings excel.
The Beefaroo menu of 1967 featured roast beef sandwiches, ham sandwiches and potato chips. Now, the menu has expanded to include, salads, signature wraps, specialty sandwiches, soups, heart healthy, gluten free and vegetarian options.
“Our parents started to expand the menu; I remember having a salad bar, which was very popular in the 1980s and by that time we also had hamburgers and French fries,” Pratt said. “As a family, we kept adding to the menu. Our salads are very important to us; we don’t have a salad bar anymore, but we have 12 awesome entrée salads and we’re really proud of that segment of our menu,” she said.
Beefaroo is known for their cheddar fries and shakes as well as healthier menu options.
“About 20 years ago, we were asked to develop some menu items for the CHIP (Coronary Health Improvement Program) so that was our first foray into more health conscious menu options,” Pratt said.
“This has evolved into adding meatless items and gluten free choices. So we have a nice segment of our menu that’s devoted to heathy options,” she said.
Some popular Beefaroo menu items that promote healthy eating are: the high protein “skinny” pitas, garden burgers, veggies and humus, grilled tuna salad, kale salad, baked potatoes with broccoli and their southwest black bean salad.
New menu ideas are usually “test marketed” among Pratt, her siblings and the Beefaroo managers.
“The managers give us a pretty good indication if a new menu item is worth pursuing,” Pratt said. “Our managers are long-term at Beefaroo, I worked with them when I was in high school and they are really veterans of the business. I trust their judgment, if I can get a majority of them onboard with a new item, then it usually does well,” she said.
“The biggest thing on our menu now is the turkey avocado jack sandwich, which started out as a test product,” Pratt said. “We do really well with turkey. Our turkey is really good; it’s a natural turkey from Michigan and we can’t get a better product. We are always looking for ways to feature turkey. So, we added the grilled turkey avocado jack sandwich to our menu. It has pepper jack cheese and a slightly spicy sauce and can be ordered as a sandwich or a wrap. People love it. They absolutely love it, so this is a great example of a new item that is now a staple of the Beefaroo menu,” she said.
Longtime patrons have also enjoyed Beefaroo’s “themed” restaurants for the unique atmosphere as well as the great food. Of the seven Beefaroo locations, four have some “themed” décor representing a 50s diner, a train station, a fire station and a north woods lodge. The other three restaurants have fireplaces and are decorated to invoke a feeling of comfort.
Upkeep of the themed restaurants, according to Pratt, does have an effect on the location’s overall ambiance and customer experience.
“We’ve had to do some remodeling because the buildings were showing their age. The Riverside location is the first one where we didn’t stay with a 50s theme when we remodeled,” she said. “This was because, the memorabilia at the Riverside store was starting to look somewhat shabby and we couldn’t keep the restaurant tidy. So, when we remodeled it, we went with a comfort theme and added a fireplace and some couches to create a welcoming environment.”
Pratt says that the current “themed” locations in Roscoe, Loves Park and Rockford have been updated to keep their unique theme while being clean and comfortable for patrons.
“Our current project is to update the Machesney Park location which has a north woods theme,” she said. “An overwhelming number of people just love that location because it’s a log cabin and I think people appreciate the warm cabin feel. We are redoing that store in 2017 and it will stay log cabin themed, but some of the décor will be scaled back.”
The change of scenery at some Beefaroo locations might make patrons feel a bit nostalgic, but Pratt wants to keep the family business focused on service and satisfaction.
“Sometimes, our customers are a little sad to see something they love get changed or renovated, but we are a restaurant first and the environment needs to be clean and safe. If chairs are falling apart or if booths cushions are sagging, your experience isn’t as nice,” she said.
Beyond their unique menu and themed restaurants, Beefaroo fans both near and far can commemorate the establishment’s 50th anniversary with branded merchandise. Beefaroo bobble heads, mugs, t-shirts, season salt and hats are just a few items available on their website or at any of their locations.
Beefaroo has also partnered with Candle Crest to sell their Rockford Positivity candle. Proceeds from the sale of this candle benefit local charities. Candle Crest also created a special Beefaroo Chocolate Mint candle which pays tribute to the restaurant’s tradition of leaving chocolate mints on their patrons’ trays.
Beefaroo is also known for a strong commitment to the Rockford community through support of local charities and schools. The Beefaroo 50th anniversary calendar is a collection of old photos, ads and menus but also includes coupons for favorite menu items. Each month during 2017, proceeds of Beefaroo’s famed cheddar fries are donated to local charities mentioned in the calendar.
Pratt and her siblings, credit the Rockford community for Beefaroo’s 50 years of success.
“We just want to say thanks to all of our customers, friends, staff and family for all of your support and loyalty for the past 50 years. Our communities of Rockford, Roscoe, Loves Park, and Machesney Park mean so much to us. We have dedicated our anniversary year to giving back to local not for profits who work so hard to improve the lives of our citizens in need,” she said.
— ’Famously Delicious’ Beefaroo celebrates 50 years —