Peep's Hot Dogs, a restaurant that has served all kinds of fast food to generations of students and staff from Hersey, St. Viator and Prospect high schools, will close for good on Friday night.
Peep's, which took the nickname of one of its founders, started business in 1967 at Rand Road and Thomas Street. In 1981 Sharon Rossman and her husband, Mel, purchased the restaurant from the Stroder family and are the ones who built an addition.
"I have one customer, he's been coming here since he was a kid. When my husband was so sick he visited him in the hospital," Rossman said.
"This man started to cry when I told him," she said.
Rossman has been the sole proprietor since her husband's death in 1993. At 70 she tries to take two days off a week, but the hours are long on the days she does work, with the restaurant generally open from 10:30 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Rossman said the condition of the parking lot has driven away business, and the new landlord does not want to extend the lease anyway.
Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer called the restaurant "iconic," and said the economy has hurt Peep's business.
"It's an aging building and doesn't warrant the inflow of cash needed to fix it up," said Helmer. "It is likely the site will be redeveloped."
Rossman plans to get a part-time job, as "sitting around" does not suit her. Samuel Ojeda, the restaurant's manager, has a new job cooking at a fast-food restaurant in Northbrook, and Rossman hopes to help another long-term employee find a job.
Peep's is in Vienna Beef's Hall of Fame. The initiation letter says some people call Sharon Rossman "Mrs. Peep."
One of Rossman's staunchest fans is Mel Melaniphy, a commercial real estate broker in Arlington Heights who says he eats there every night.
"My three kids all grew up essentially there," said Melaniphy. "And their friends, too. They're all in their 40s now."
One of his daughters started a Facebook page just to spread the news of the closing, he said. He has a son-in-law living in Connecticut who insists on visiting Peep's every time he comes to Chicago.
"There's a group of us at St. James Church in Arlington Heights, we meet there," said Melaniphy.
It's the service that makes Peep's stand out, he said, and Rossman is nice to everyone, even when asking high school students to quiet down a bit.
"The people are great, Sharon is great. Everybody is so nice. Good service. Good Food. It's a very comfortable place," said Melaniphy.
Hersey is the closest school, but student business dropped when Northwest Suburban High School District 214 restricted freshmen and sophomores from leaving campus for lunch a few years ago, said Rossman.
"I never had any problem with any of the kids who came here from Hersey," she said. "That's because with nine out of 10 of them I know their parents."