When Will Law became co-owner of the Ariston Café in Litchfield 18 months ago, he thought he was just buying a restaurant. Turns out he was part owner of a legend.
“A restaurant is a restaurant is a restaurant,” Law says with a chuckle. “We thought we would come in and run a restaurant. We thought it would be super simple … but the Ariston isn’t a restaurant. It’s an iconic destination not only for locals but for people around the world.”
Dressed in neon lights, the yellowa brick building that houses the Ariston has achieved fame as one of the oldest American restaurants on the Mother Road of Route 66. It opened in 1924 in Carlinville on Illinois Route 4. The original building was moved to the Route 66 alignment in Litchfield in 1935 where it remains 85 years later.
Law had worked for more than 25 years at Litchfield’s Maverick Steak House and took some time off to catch his breath from the chaos of the restaurant industry. When he heard that the owners of the Ariston were ready to retire, he says he realized that being part of a restaurant was his passion. Law and the other co-owners decided they wanted to carry on the history of the restaurant and even create a little history of their own. So they took a leap and bought the Ariston.
“I didn’t really know much about Route 66 before the Ariston,” Law says. “Now Route 66 is our life. Thousands of people travel this road each day and I am trying to learn the history and become a storyteller for the road.”
A wide range of classic entrees fill the Ariston menu from classic hamburgers to steaks and spaghetti. Souvenirs of Route 66 are also available at the restaurant.
But what Law has discovered is it’s not so much the food that draws people in as much as it is Route 66, its stories and souvenirs.
“We thought we would serve burgers and cook steaks but what we discovered is everyone who walks in here wants a story, wants the history. And you never know who is going to walk through the door. It could be someone from Australia on their honeymoon along Route 66. Or Europeans … it’s cool how so in love Europeans are with Route 66. It’s neat to see and to hear their stories and their passion for the road.”