FARMER CITY, Ill. (WCIA) – If these diner walls could talk, they’d tell stories of growth and change. But one thing has stayed the same since 1956.
“People drive from all over just to come for Dewey’s burgers and ice cream,” former employee Chris Wells said.
Specifically, they came for Duane Gronau’s hand-patted burgers, barbecue and lemon ice cream.
“He’s practically a legend everywhere because everyone knows about Dewey’s Drive-In,” owner PJ Foster said.
After decades at the grill, Gronau passed the torch along to PJ and Jim Foster in 2007 – but not without sharing his recipes, and continued support until his death at age 92.
“We just continue to follow his footsteps doing everything like he did,” Foster said.
Even including the hats he used to wear.
“He would get them from the bread man when they would deliver bread,” Foster said.
Now, they’re a tribute.
“We set them out on the counter for customers to take and enjoy. The kids love them – even adults, actually,” she said.
It’s been the staple hangout spot of Farmer City for generations.
“The kids that used to come here are now bringing their kids and grandkids here,” Wells said.
Dewey’s offers more than food served with a side of nostalgia. It’s where many teenagers first learned how to serve customers and count change.
“I started the day I turned 16,” Wells said.
Those who worked for “Dewey” himself remember him as a smart, generous and protective boss who believed the customers were always right – until they weren’t.
“I remember one day he came from the grill and was protecting me because somebody was being very rude,” former employee Cherie Bobb said.
Still, Bobb said one of Gronau’s most important lessons was kindness.
“Mr. and Mrs. G taught us how to treat people right,” she said.
To anyone who knew him personally, it’s undeniable that Gronau loved his restaurant deeply, and the people who made it a destination.
“Dewey Gronau lived here,” Bobb said. “He was here almost 24/7 it seemed like.”
Bobb, her sisters, and her sons all grew up working at the drive-in. That means the stories have and will continue to be passed down for years to come.
“I think that Mr. G had such a reputation of respect towards him that I was so scared when I started working here. I was nervous. And I just grew to love him so much,” Bobb said.
PJ Foster said she’ll find more ways to honor Gronau when the drive-in opens for the season in April.