Fresh food start on Larkin for new Elgin eatery
By Melaine Kalmar For Sun-Times Media September 6, 2013 9:54AM
Restaurant owner Al Sadiku with wife Frieda and son Ben and the newly opened Larkin Cafe in Elgin. | Submitted
Updated: October 10, 2013 6:05AM
ELGIN — A slow but steady stream of customers dined at Larkin Café on its first day in business. Many of them even took the time to compliment Chef Al Sadiku on the good food and quick service.
Sadiku knows from his 30 years in the business that it takes time to gather a following and create a buzz that gets people excited to give your restaurant a try. He previously owned and sold 7 Dwarfs in Wheaton, Main Street Diner in Plano, and Amy’s Family Restaurant in Beloit, Wis.
The broad menu at Larkin Café offers a peek into the various kitchens where Sadiku honed his skills shadowing chefs. The casual, family restaurant, which opened on Aug. 26, serves American, Greek, Italian and Mexican fare. Located at 1568 Larkin Ave. — almost across the street from Larkin High School — the restaurant’s name makes it easy for customers to remember its location.
Sadiku runs the 4,000-square-foot restaurant with his wife, Frieda, and their three children — Amy, Ben and Nick. Although they are retired, his parents also help out with the restaurant.
“I have a beautiful family,” Sadiku says. “We work as a team and treat customers like family, too.”
Sadiku purchases ingredients from local vendors and makes everything from scratch. He takes care in preparing a different soup each day. Among his specialties are cabbage soup, chicken and dumpling, cream of mushroom and clam chowder.
The large, broad menu at Larkin Café is basic enough for even the pickiest of eaters to find something they like. Peruse the lunch and dinner menus, and you’ll find burgers, steaks and chops; Grecian chicken, gyros, salads and spinach pies; Italian-style chicken and pasta dishes; and chimichangas and tacos.
Breakfast plays a starring role on the menu, with the restaurant opening daily at 6 a.m. Sadiku’s daughter Amy is partial to the biscuits and gravy, and country fried steak and eggs. But you don’t have to be an early riser to sample the morning fare. Sadiku says he will make anything a customer wants, even if it’s not on the menu.
A native of Albania, Sadiku came to America in 1971 and remains grateful for all the opportunities this country has afforded him. His father, uncles and older brother all worked in the restaurant industry. At the age of 11, Sadiku took his first job, washing dishes, at an eatery owned by his brother.
“My brother taught me everything, how to work in the kitchen, wash dishes, talk to customers, smile, show respect,” he said.
Sadiku prides himself on serving homemade food at affordable prices, from $3.99 breakfast specials to $7.99 lunch specials to $14 steaks. He also has separate menus for seniors and children.
When you enter the restaurant, it feels like “you’re walking into someone’s home,” Amy says. The atmosphere is “warm and friendly,” and the décor is “modern.” Everything in the restaurant is new, she says, from the booths to the white paint on the walls with a hint of pink.
Reflecting on his first day in business, Sadiku was optimistic about the future. He imagines a time when his new restaurant will have regular customers, as his previous establishments did, and bustle with traffic throughout the day. Patiently, he will wait, knowing that he’s got the right ingredients to make it a success.
Larkin Café is open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and Sundays, and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.