american bar

The Donkey Inn - Palatine's Best Kept Secret

Tuesday, June 17, 2014 HALFSTACK MAGAZINE

Who goes to a bar or restaurant to find it packed on a Tuesday night? Typically, I don't always see that, let alone out in the burbs. Then again, after I tried the grub, enjoyed a couple of drinks and people watched; it was no surprise that this homegrown spot was the place to be for family and friends. You're sure to find regulars on any given day and a wait staff that is attentive and on point. The crowd is an interesting array of people. You can see an older couple enjoying a date night, a couple of bikers enjoying a beer in a friendly atmosphere and a fun family group with kids and all. The crowd is by far one of the coolest things about the Donkey Inn. It speaks volumes in terms of the owners and their ability to connect with people from all walks of life in terms of their food and demeanor. You can visit The Donkey Inn at: 923 S Plum Grove Rd, Palatine, IL 60067

The establishment has been around since the 30s and has been curated and cared for by it's current owners (brothers: Brain and Joel) for the last 8 years or so. They are a team that cares about good food, taking care of their customers and trying to bring their fans food like they would find at home. The portions are huge, the menu is vast and the drink selection is updated seasonally.

Some menu must-haves include the Texas Style Chicken ceasar salad. It's crisp and tangy with just a bit of a spicy bite. It's huge, so make sure you are hungry when ordering it. Their burgers are a fan fave and come with tater-tots. Needless to say, you're likely to reminisce back to your grade school days, only the tots at The Donkey Inn are huge step above what your lunch lady gave you in the school cafeteria. There is also 5 Buck Burgers on Wednesdays and a fantastic Rib Special on Saturdays! So, there's no reason to not try.

While visiting, I took some time to speak with one of the owners Brian Schnell about his restaurant, experience and journey. He had the following to say: 

HSM: What can customers expect when they come to the Donkey Inn?

BS: We are definitely like a Cheers. A great neighborhood bar. They'll find a comfortable atmosphere and good food. The people who come here all get along great and are really friendly. You'll find a wide range of people from the 21 year olds to older couples who enjoy leaving full. Although we are a bar/restaurant, we offer more than just a bar menu.

HSM: Where do you find your inspiration for the menu?

BS: Well, We offer great bar food faves like burgers and fries, but we are trying to ensure that items are made fresh to order. When we took over 8 years ago, we made some changes to our interior, but we wanted to stay true to the brand. We made it a point to make sure that the original menu options were still available for the regulars, but we took it up a notch with the quality of the food. Right now our focus is on fresh food. Including fresh veggies and nothing frozen as was the case when we first took over. It’s great quality food, homegrown americana style faire with modern updates. It’s filling, tastes good and feels like home.

HSM: What led you and your brother to this entrepreneurial journey?
BS: It actually as started with my brother who owns another bar. I actually kind of fell into this business. I was working construction for many years and the company I worked for ended up closing shop. I was in my early twenties and wasn’t quite sure what  I wanted to do. I ended up taking the summer off and called up my brother and decided to start working with him. I worked my way up from bar-back through the ropes and before that I never worked in the restaurant industry. Every day was and still is a learning experience. I have my hands in everything from understanding the bar aspect, to the food prep to marketing and how to run an every day business. It can be tough, but I really enjoy the fact that I get to work around people all day.  We worked hard to save up and eventually we saw that the Donkey Inn was available for sale and we made a decision to buy it and haven’t looked back since.

HSM: That brings me to my next questions, although running your own business has a lot of positive factors; have you experienced any obstacles along the way?
BS: I’ve been really lucky, I haven’t faced too many obstacles! The hardest part is definitely the fact that this job can keep me away from my family, but I make it a point to try and find balance where I can and I am lucky I have a significant other who understands the ways of the business. I honestly just try to keep our customers happy, so we can keep them coming back by giving them a good experience. We try to do our best to make sure that as leaders  we let our employees do the great jobs we hired them to do and even make it a point to learn from them as well.

HSM: My last question for you, it’s kind of random, but if you could go back and tell the younger you anything about moving onto this phase of their life, what would it be? Almost like sage advice for the younger audience looking to start a business, what could you offer them?

BS: Well, this is a great business to work in if yo love it. I won’t lie, there are long hours and they can be rough, but it has its benefits. I think the positive side to me is constantly being around people and moving around. I couldn’t sit at a desk all day long. This gives me the opportunity to meet new and interesting folks doing what I love. i think the best advice I could give, though, is to know your priorities and not to get caught up with the lifestyle that can be associated with the bar/restaurant business. Yes, its ok to have fun, but there is a time and place for it and that’s not during work. We all have our moments of immature actions, but if you can keep yourself focused, you can grow immensely and really make a living for yourself.

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