This was no ordinary 50th anniversary party.
Celebrating five decades of being in business in Beverly as the owner of the local KFC restaurant and The Original Pancake House, Dick Harrigan took his usual low-key approach and decided to celebrate his milestone by serving others.
However, he did have some help from two celebrities.
With Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and TV Chef Graham Elliot donning chef hats along with 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea and his son Patrick and daughter, Eileen, Harrigan and his daughter Julie hosted individuals from Misericordia for a breakfast at The Original Pancake House, 10437 S. Western Ave., on Oct. 16.
The occasion also provided the chance for an informal cook-off between Harrigan and Emanuel to decide which is best, Harrigan’s famous buttermilk pancakes or the mayor’s French toast made with traditional Challah bread, a special Jewish braided bread eaten on Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
During his tenure as chief of staff for President Barack Obama, Emanuel and his family would occasionally have breakfast with the president and his family. Emanuel would cook his French toast from Challah, and the Obamas made buttermilk pancakes. The question between the two families was always about who made the best breakfast.
Although their allegiances lie with the longtime owner of this famous local pancake house, at least one reporter had to give the nod to the Challah French toast, which uses a recipe from Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule; however, the real winners were the more than dozen visitors from Misericordia who smiled as they enjoyed the breakfast creations hot off the grill.
The excitement created by Emanuel’s participation and the joy displayed by the Misericordia visitors made for a perfect day for Harrigan to celebrate his long career.
“It was a wonderful, genuine feeling,” Harrigan said. “It came about naturally. We didn’t want to make it something big. We wanted to make this kind of a family thing.”
Harrigan said his family will also make a donation to Misericordia to mark the occasion.
Emanuel, who is Jewish, compared the pancake house’s invitation to Misericordia, which serves people with developmental disabilities, to tzedakah, a Hebrew word that refers to the Jewish religious obligation to do what is right and just.
He praised the Harrigan Family for working with Misericordia Executive Director Sister Rosemary Connelly, who has served Misericordia for more than five decades, in creating a memorable affair.
“I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate your 50-year anniversary than making sure that Misericordia and its family, as our family, is ... brought whole, and we heal the world,” Emanuel said. “And that is the mission of all of us.”
The Original Pancake House, the mayor said, is an example of what makes Chicago great.
“Chicago is made up of family businesses that are not just family businesses—they’re a community business,” Emanuel said. “That’s where the fabric of our city is really woven. And I want to thank you to commemorate this time of 50 years of being part of the city of Chicago, literally bringing the fabric of a community together.”
Harrigan, a Beverly resident, began operating the pancake house and the KFC in 1965, with his two brothers, Bud and Jack, and the family has also owned other KFC restaurants.
While his restaurant’s pancakes have become a staple in the neighborhood over the years, Harrigan was quick to declare Emanuel’s French toast as the winner.
“I have to bow to the mayor,” Harrigan said. “It’s Amy’s Challah bread. It knocked it out of the park. It was delicious, and I think it’s no contest.”
Misericordia was founded in 1921 at 2916 W. 47th St., and in August 1969, Connelly joined the efforts, quickly planning to construct classrooms and other learning programs for people who called Misericordia home.
Today, the organization, now located at 6300 N. Ridge Ave., serves more than 600 people on its 31-acre campus.
Mary Cantillon, of Tinley Park, has a daughter, Deirdre, who lives at Misericordia and attended the breakfast.
She only found out about the event the day before, she said, but she wasn’t about to miss it.
“I think it’s just absolutely wonderful,” Cantillon said.
She was also quick to praise Connelly.
“She’s an angel from heaven,” Cantillon said while commending all Misericordia residents and their caretakers.
“They’re all angels up there, and they’re all angels who take care of them.”
Joe Ferrara, residential administrator at Misericordia, said he was thrilled to be part of the celebration at such a longstanding small business.
“It’s a nice family business here, and our residents were so happy to be able to do that,” Ferrara said.
According to Ferrera, Misericordia resident Christopher Marsh couldn’t make up his mind as to which is better—the French toast or the pancakes. But, he was certainly enjoying the taste test.
“I can’t wait to have a couple more,” Marsh said.
The idea to have Emanuel visit for the 50th anniversary, the Harrigans said, stemmed from the mayor’s visit to St. Christina Elementary School in February for a pancake breakfast to support the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation’s “Get Behind the Vest” program. The Harrigan Family donated the supplies for the breakfast that was organized by O’Shea to raise funds for the purchase of new bulletproof vests for Chicago police officers. It was at that event that Emanuel told Julie Harrigan about his family’s beloved Challah French toast and suggested an informal cook off to make a comparison. She was thrilled that he made good on his offer.
For O’Shea, the Misericordia breakfast “exemplifies what we’re all about as a community.”
Emanuel praised O’Shea, calling him not just a member of the City Council but a “salt of the earth” man “who lives, breathes and bleeds his community in an incredible way.”
Emanuel said he considers O’Shea as a friend.
“On behalf of the entire city,” Emanuel said to O’Shea, “we’re a better city because you’re willing to do public service.”
Julie Harrigan, a Beverly resident who is the longtime director of operations for the family business, said their restaurants’ operations can be summed up in two words: pride and passion.
She said Emanuel exhibits similar characteristics.
“We have such a community pride in this neighborhood,” Julie said. “We have such a pride in this city, as our mayor demonstrates daily.”
She and her father also expressed gratitude to Elliot, a Morgan Park resident who stars as a judge on the competitive cooking shows MasterChef and MasterChef Jr. He eats at The Original Pancake House about once a week, he said, and loves the diversity of its clientele.
Although Elliot was born in Seattle and has traveled around the world during his successful culinary career, he said the neighborhood has, in many ways, adopted him as one of its own. So, when he was asked to judge a friendly contest at a local business, he happily accepted.
“It’s something that I love to be part of,” said Elliot, who is married to Allie Bowles, who was raised in the area.
Elliot’s visit to The Original Pancake House was part of a busy week for him around the neighborhood. On Oct. 18, he took part in the 95th Street Farmers Market at 95th Street and Longwood Drive, where he made squash bisque and cider; dozens of people enjoyed free samples.
Elliot was joined at the market by Neil Byers, owner of Horse Thief Hollow (HTH), a restaurant at 10426 S. Western Ave.; on Saturday, Nov. 22, HTH will host a dinner featuring Elliot in celebration of the release of his book, “Cooking Like A Master Chef.”
According to Byers, the event is open to the public, and tickets are $65.
And that might be just the beginning of Elliot working with local eateries. He said he is in talks with local officials about organizing a “Taste of Beverly” next summer.
Elliot has already helped local businesses, and Dick Harrigan is among those who are grateful for Elliot’s support.
“No greater endorsement do you have than someone who’s a food genius [giving you] his presence on a weekly basis,” Harrigan said. “He is a good friend and a good neighbor and a good customer.”
As his business continues into its next 50 years, Harrigan, 83, said Julie now handles most of the responsibilities.
He said she deserves much of the credit for the success of the business and making his life at work much easier.
“All I had to do was just get up every morning and go to work for 50 years,” Harrigan said. “So I guess we did something right, and got to build a good relationship with the community. We take a lot of value in that.”