Twenty-five years ago, Casey Milligan made his dream of owning a restaurant a reality when he opened Filling Station Pub & Grill on the corner of Third and Main streets in downtown St. Charles.
“[Casey Milligan] had always been working in restaurants and cooking and he wanted to have his own restaurant – it was his dream,” said Peter Milligan, Casey’s brother and the restaurant’s part owner.
In April 1988, Filling Station Antique Eatery – as the restaurant’s logo still reads – began as a 40-seat, fast-food style, health-food restaurant catering to local antique aficionados because of the large number of antique shops in the area during that time. Falling in stride with the antique-theme, Casey Milligan donned the walls of the Filling Station with an array of priced collectibles that the dining public had the option to purchase.
“The original idea was to have a price tag on everything – the signs, the tables, the chairs, because those were antiques as well,” said Peter Milligan, who came on board in 1990. “But the price tag idea never really panned out.”
The restaurant began to evolve after its first year, when Casey Milligan decided to ditch the price-tag gimmick and add a wait staff to better serve customers.
“When we opened, we didn’t have a wait service … .” Peter Milligan said. “You’d go up to place your order, pay and [the staff] would call out the order over a PA system when it was ready.”
In 1991, the brothers continued making changes and expanded into what is now the upper area of the split-level restaurant, adding a full-service bar and deep-fryers. And they introduced proper dishware and cutlery.
“Prior to [the expansion], we didn’t have a dishwasher; glassware and plates were paper and plastic and sandwiches came wrapped in paper,” Peter Milligan said, adding that the health-conscious eatery hadn’t made much of a profit until after the expansion and with the introduction of fried food. “That’s when the business really took off.”
The space formerly designated for parking on Main Street was morphed into a beer garden, because – at the time – there weren’t really any outdoor patios, Peter Milligan said.
During the renovation of the newly acquired space, remnants of the building’s former life as a gas station – such as an old brick wall – were salvaged, further playing into the Milligan’s appreciation for antiquated items and their desire to preserve the past.
Over the years, the Filling Station went through financial waves of flourish and near failure, coming close to shutting its doors during the massive road reconstruction of Main Street in the ’90s.
“I was willing to do anything to not close during that year when the whole road was torn up,” said Milligan, adding that they tried staying open 24 hours to stay afloat.
Today, the dining scene of St. Charles has seen similar trending with new eateries popping up and others closing down, but the competition remains strong.
“It’s getting very competitive,” Milligan said. “It’s always scary when someone else opens, but I’ve found that the more that there is for people who come into town, the bigger the circle we draw from.”
Despite strong competition between restaurants in St. Charles, the Filling Station Pub managed to receive rave reviews from a former resident and rock ‘n’ roll icon.
“Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was quoted in a newspaper as saying that Filling Station was his favorite restaurant in town,” Peter Milligan said. “[Wilson] had a house here in town, and he used to come in a lot ... .”
After 25 years, the Filling Station stands as a successful thriving business, specializing in burgers and specialty sandwiches “you can’t get anywhere else,” Milligan said.
“I can’t think of another [continuously owned], full-service restaurant that has been around longer in downtown St. Charles than Filling Station Pub,” he said.
• The Filling Station Pub and Grill is located at 300 W. Main St. in St Charles. For more information, call 630-584-4414.