The Milk Pail restaurant complex near East Dundee was once a tourist destination, drawing thousands of travelers bound for Wisconsin.
But the complex, located on a scenic stretch of Route 25 just north of Elgin, has had a rough go of it lately and is for sale.
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While the banquet and wedding end of the business continues to boom with about 30 bookings a month, management was forced to close the restaurant five years ago, Manager Hope Drake said.
These days, the restaurant is only open for brunch holidays on Easter, Mother's Day and Thanksgiving. The Milk Pail focuses its energy on promoting itself as a venue for private events, including weddings, birthdays, baptisms and showers.
"Things are definitely busy," Drake said.
For about a month, management has allowed flea markets outside the Milk Pail on weekends. Sellers push tires, clothes, toys and food, and they are long gone by the time the evening events roll around, Drake said. Several other businesses rent space on site.
Drake confirmed the business is for sale and referred additional questions to another manager, Mario Cepeda, who did not return several phone calls. A phone number for Fin 'n Feather Farm, listed as the property owners, was disconnected.
According to Bob Skurla, East Dundee's interim village administrator, the asking price is $2 million for the 22-acre wooded grounds.
A potential buyer has surfaced who wants to run an upscale enterprise, but Skurla declined to elaborate since nothing is final.
This "highly desirable" buyer, he added, comes with several caveats. The buyer wants East Dundee to help pay for demolition, for future development and an environmental cleanup.
For the past 20 years, East Dundee has supplied Milk Pail with water and sewer at the expense of the business. Milk Pail lies within unincorporated Kane County, so for East Dundee to lend a hand with the property, it would have to annex the business into the village, Skurla said.
East Dundee would first want to enter into negotiations with Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation to annex a spot of land between Milk Pail for a continuous boundary into the village.
The Milk Pail and its grounds are steeped in history.
The farmhouse on site was built in the late 1860s, and the entire area is surrounded by a 1,300-acre wild gaming preserve.
Max McGraw, who later formed the Toastmaster Co. and the McGraw Edison Co., built the Country Tea Room in 1926 as an addition to the farmhouse, according to documents filed with the United States Department of the Interior. It remained in business until 1939 when the Milk Pail restaurant opened.
In 1999, the tea room landed a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Dundee area, including the Milk Pail, became a popular spot in the 1920s for people heading down Route 25 on their way to Haeger Potteries and Wisconsin.
People used to bring empty milk pails to the nearby Fin 'n Feather Farm Creamery to take fresh milk and other milk items, according to the Milk Pail's website.
Once the restaurant replaced the creamery, the Milk Pail name stuck.
Over the years, the Milk Pail's celebrity patrons have included Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Vincent Price and Mike Ditka.