The Wild Rover: Oak Forest Brothers Open Sports Bar With a Fresh Attitude

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When it came to opening their new sports bar together in Frankfort, Oak Forest brothers Jack and Jim Dillon have been pretty much in agreement on everything over the past two years it’s taken to get their establishment off the ground. Whether it’s been settling on the Vinyeards shopping center location or the freshly made items on the unique menu, the Dillons have been working off the same page.

Credit Joe Vince

But the one thing they couldn’t agree on? The bar’s name. That is, until someone suggested The Wild Rover.

“It’s one of our dad’s favorite Irish songs, and it was the only one we could ever agree on,” said Jack Dillon. “It was brought up at a Sox game that we should name it The Wild Rover, and it was the only name me and (my brother) really liked. It had that family connection, so we went ahead and did it.”

Since then, it’s been full steam ahead for the Dillons and The Wild Rover, which opened its doors the beginning of this month. An official grand opening with a variety of drink and food specials is set for Friday, Nov. 18.

So what makes two brothers run a bar together? Part of it stemmed from that time-honored male dream of opening a corner bar with your buddies. Another part spoke to the Dillons’ entrepreneurial spirit, which runs strong in the family. Along with a trucking company the two brothers own together, Jack and Jim also have a road construction business with their dad and two other brothers.

“(The bar) was a different business than what we were used to,” Jack said “We’ve been in road construction our whole lives, six or seven generations. So it was cool to branch out in to something different.

“I was looking for a different career, and Jim was looking for a different career and we thought let’s do it,” he added. “We’re young. Let’s go do it now before we’re set in our ways permanently. We have no regrets. We like it out here. We’re hoping to be here for many years.”

At its core, Jack said he wants to make The Wild Rover a place where people feel comfortable dropping by and watching their favorite sports game—including soccer—on one of the bar’s 15 flat-screen TVs.

“Realistically, it’s just a friendly local place where people can get good food, good service, a drink or spirit if they choose,” he said. “We didn’t want to be the renegades in Frankfort or the bar industry. We didn’t want to be a dive bar. … We want to avoid the clubby, late-night thing.”

What distinguishes The Wild Rover from other sports bars, Jack said, is the food. He hired his high school friend Pat Waters, a culinary chef, to run the kitchen and set up the menu.

“The concept is a normal bar menu, but it’s got different touches,” Waters said. “You got your normal burgers, but it’s got its special touches. You’ve got your steak sandwich, but it’s got a cherry sauce on it. Everything is homemade here, from the sauces to the fries to the chips to the burgers. Everything we make is in house. I mean, everything’s made in house.”

“Everything here is freshly made,” Jack said. “You’re not going to get a frozen patty if you order a burger.”

The Rover Burger, served with bacon and cheese over a medium egg, has turned into the bar’s signature dish. Another unique item is the Kenosha Killa, a beer brat with peppers, onions and spicy brown mustard. Waters said he knows some customers want healthier fare, too, which is why he adds low-fat yogurt to the chicken salad sandwich instead of mayonnaise.

So far, word of mouth has been good for The Wild Rover, Jack said. Business has been steady, and he hasn’t heard any complaints from customers. But this is just the first step in a much bigger plan for the Dillons. They’re already looking at expanding to the open storefront next door, the former home of Louie’s Pizza. In the summer, Jack said he wants to create a beer garden, too.

But the real big plans for The Wild Rover are down the road if all goes well for the brothers.

“We have a three-year plan to franchise The Wild Rover,” said Jack, who’s also interested in opening an authentic Irish pub in downtown Chicago. “We have personal plans, but we have a franchise plan, as well. The dream is to do what we want. … It is a dream. It is a lot of fun. I always say that if you aren’t having fun at work, you shouldn’t be working there. I enjoy coming here. You’re not outside in the blistering heat or the extreme cold. … The sky’s really the limit. We don’t know what to expect.”

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