The Branding Iron Restaurant once located in Oak Lawn, IL. Barbecue Ribs, Bowling, and Donut Holes.

branding iron in color
The Branding Iron Restaurant once located at 4200 W 95th St in Oak Lawn, IL. Photo provided by Brian Weaver.

Hello everyone. Today I will be talking about The Branding Iron restaurant that was once located at 4200 W 95th St in Oak Lawn, IL. It opened in August 1959 as a restaurant and a 36-lane bowling alley. The parking lot accommodated 300 cars at that time. The Branding Iron was a local favorite, serving up barbecued ribs with special sauce; salads with a Lazy Susan of French, thousand island and creamy garlic dressings; and baked potatoes and French fries. You also made your own ice cream sundaes when you ordered dessert there. The barbecue ribs were cooked over live hickory logs. According to the manager, Jim Sullivan, he recalled how patrons from the predominantly Catholic surrounding neighborhood would bowl until midnight on Fridays during Lent when their religion required them to abstain from eating meat. At 12:01, they’d line up at the restaurant for a barbecue dinner. The wait staff dropped off the complimentary powdered-sugar-covered donut holes in wooden salad bowls shortly after diners sat down. A second location opened at the corner of Butterfield and Finley Roads in Downers Grove, IL. I only went to The Branding Iron once in my life, but I wished I went there more often. When I was at Bogan High School in 1979, my friends suggested we go to the restaurant one Saturday night. When we arrived there, I fell in love with the place. It was big, but not enormous and the people were warm and friendly. I ordered their famous ribs, and they were the best I have ever tasted. The baked potatoes and the salads were sheer delights. The piece de resistance of the entire meal was the powder-sugar donuts holes. They were so succulent, much better than Dunkin Donuts or any other donut shops that I have eaten. I still miss those. After we finished our meals, we headed to the bowling alleys. I had a lot of fun of bowling there, but I liked the other bowling alleys in my old neighborhood, like Ford City Bowling Center and Scottsdale Bowl. Ford City Bowling Center had the red pins and if you bowled a strike, you would have received a free game. I used to drive by The Branding Iron all the time on W 95th St, and never went a second time. The place is still talked about to this day. People miss it immensely and when it was announced that the place was closing in the spring of 1988, everyone was very sad about it. The Downers Grove location was closed as well. The building was eventually torn down. A Bank of America and an Advocate Medical Group Primary Care Medical building are there now. Please share your memories and comments on The Branding Iron Restaurant here on my blog and on my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit accounts. Some information was provided by an article written in The Chicago Tribune. Thank you. Pete Kastanes-Admin for Vanished Chicagoland Facebook page.

6 thoughts on “The Branding Iron Restaurant once located in Oak Lawn, IL. Barbecue Ribs, Bowling, and Donut Holes.

  1. I was staying at the Holiday Inn, immediately east of the Branding Iron, during the summer of ’72. I was 15 at the time and was there for a few weeks while my dad decided if he wanted to move us from Detroit to remain with North American Rockwell after the Detroit operation closed.

    I had all day to myself for the duration and I remember walking to Ford City a few times. Mostly, I remember the Branding Iron. I recall how the entire parking lot of the Holiday Inn smelled like hickory smoked ribs and I loved ribs! My dad and I walked there from the motel and my first encounter with the Branding Iron was a large glass window somewhere near the entrance. Through the window you could watch men in chef’s hats cooking ribs directly over wood fire…at a bowling alley! It is something I’ll never forget. The ribs were remarkable enough that I talked about them when I returned to Detroit.

    The Holiday Inn and the Branding Iron are ghosts, like pretty much everything from my youth, but the sensory experience of the Branding Iron is a ghost that I hope will keep haunting me forever.

    1. Just remembered another hazy recollection of my brief Chicago experience: my dad took me along to a liquor store. Not a corner liquor store (we call those ‘party stores’ here in Detroit) but a supermarket that sold only beer, wine, and liquor. I think it was called ‘National Liquor’ or something like that. Massive displays of hard liquor in what I think was a former grocery supermarket building. It made an impression on a teenager from Detroit!

  2. In 1974 I think it was, maybe give or take a year, Jim Sullivan hired me at the new location in Downers Grove when they were getting ready to open it. It was under construction, nearly finished, and I had a short interview with him. At that time I was a student at Benedictine College and he asked me what I wanted to be and I said “cook”. He looked at me funny when I said that. But he hired me and sent me to the Oak Lawn location to work a few weeks as training and then move to the Downers Grove location.

    At Oak Lawn I worked as a cook and for a guy named Art who seemed to run the restaurant and oversee everyone. His son Charles was the main smoke-pit guy (it was a separate smoke-room of sorts) and I used to go in there and flip ribs around, but I don’t think Charles approved of that. That was his territory and the didn’t really accept this new guy.

    After Downers Grove opened up, I worked there a few?? months. Nothing really fit me. I was moved from front to back and ended up pulling skin membranes off the ribs before they got put in the smoker. Not a good job. Eventually Art kindly let me go (fired) and what a relief.

    I do also recall that Art drove a large passenger van, but bused a bunch of kitchen back-room workers in all of time. Big white van.

  3. This is where I met my nemesis, Zza Zza Gabor. Her real name is Sari Gabor. My mom and God Mother Daral DeNormandie bowled there on a league. I was occasionally “pinched” from school to sub when someone couldn’t make it. One day, Zza and her entourage pulled up in the Rolls Limo. My mom encouraged me to introduce myself. She was very nice (I was probably 10ish at the time) and I did get an autograph that I unfortunately can’t find~ Great memories and my favorite of course were the doughnut holes and the freaky mirror in the ladies room that if you stood just right……. was like looking at a funny mirror in a house of mirrors at a fair or amusement park. Ahhhh had a wonderful childhood~

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