ROCKFORD (WREX) — 75 years in business is impressive for any company, but for The OIympic Tavern General Manager Zak Rotello, he says meeting that milestone as a restaurant is even more impressive.
"I don't know if there are a lot of businesses in Rockford that can claim they've been here for 75 years. Let alone bar and restaurants that are family owned," says Rotello.
"Somehow or other it was in my blood that I was going to end up here."
But how the Olympic got to where it is now, is a story of family and entrepreneurship.
"My grandpa started it 75, 76 years ago now," says Rotello. "He was a cook in the Marines and the story goes he figured if he could cook food overseas for the Marine with stuff coming in cans, he could figure out how to do it better in Rockford."
"So when he came back here in 1945, he bought a small tavern and grocery store on this block that had been here since before 1945. So that's how the Olympic Tavern was born."
Not much inside the building remains from the original tavern, except for the basement, as Rotello says the restaurant has evolved over the years. There was a large expansion in the 1990's and the bar was redone eight years ago.
Through the renovations, the heart and soul of the Olympic has remained the same.
"Our history is really tied in with the history of industrial Rockford," says Rotello, "with Ingersoll and Essex just down the street, those were our main sources of business for many, many years."
He adds that, that foundation has guided their decision to never open a second location in another part of the city, despite demand for it.
"People ask us a lot, 'When are you going to open up an Olympic East,' and stuff, I tell them never. This is our block, we aren't going anywhere."
If you've never been to The Olympic Tavern, Rotello says you can expect fresh seafood, high-quality steaks and dozens of different craft beers.
"We do make our own cheese curds and that's a hot seller," says Rotello, "and we are very beer focused."
The menu of craft beers rotates on a seasonal basis, with Rotello selecting which options are on tap. He says he tries to keep a variety so there is something for everyone.
If you are not a beer fan, there is also an expanded selection of wines and cocktails.
"[We] just keep the selection changing so that every time you come here you're going to find something new on tap."
As the Olympic enters a new era, Rotello says it is the people that have gotten them this far and will continue supporting them into the future.
"Yeah, we sell burgers and beer, and that's what we do, but really the restaurant/hospitality business is about people," says Rotello.
"So it really warms my heart to have all the good will come at us for our 75th year, having people come back in and hangout with us at the bar again. That's what really means a lot to me."
To commemorate the celebration, The Olympic Tavern is releasing a limited-edition line of merchandise.
"Technically, 2020 was our 75th anniversary," says GM Zak Rotello, "but if you remember 2020, we couldn't exactly hold any sort of celebration due to COVID restrictions. So instead, we reached out to our friend Joe Tallman and had him design us a special logo for our 75th year in business and we think it came out amazing."
You can order a selection of glassware, hoodies, tee shirts and poster prints that are on sale through August 25 when the preorder will close. Once the preorders are in, the shirts and hoodies will be printed at local screen-printing shop, Silky Screens, and customers can have the items shipped or ready for pickup at the tavern.
Click here to shop.
The Olympic Tavern is located at 2327 North Main Street in Rockford and is open from 4 to 9 p.m. during the week, until 10 p.m. on Fridays, and from 12 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays.