The closing of Houlihan's restaurant near Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg this week brought to a close a weekly tradition among a group of friends stretching back unbroken for 16 years.
"The Lunch Bunch" met at Houlihan's every Tuesday at a large round table in a semiprivate room that could accommodate shifts in the size of the group from week to week. The usual range is between 6 and 12 people.
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At the core of the group are women from Itasca, some of whom have since moved to Inverness and South Barrington, who have known each other for more than a quarter of a century. But joining them sometimes are their daughters and even young grandchildren.
"We're in our 60s, but we're all very cute," founding member Pat Luciani laughs.
The tradition of meeting every Tuesday without fail started subtly, without any intention of pursuing such dedication. Also unintended at the start was to always make Houlihan's the location.
"They really just accommodate us so well," Luciani said. "Very few restaurants have round tables. I don't like long tables.'
And serving the group faithfully for nearly the entirety of these 16 years has been their waiter, Manny.
"Manny's a sweetheart! He knows what we want before we do," Luciani said.
Many of life's milestones have been marked at that big round table -- including births, graduations and weddings.
"We call it our therapy," member Gail Scherer joked. "We chose this place and it's been very good to us, and vice versa."
Though the announcement of the Schaumburg Houlihan's closing occurred only recently, the group felt a bad vibe just after Christmas when they noticed the restaurant was no longer investing in the upkeep of the decor.
The Lunch Bunch was surprised to learn their gathering last Tuesday there was to be the last at the Schaumburg restaurant. The restaurant closed for good last Sunday after just a few days' notice.
While the group begins auditioning some other Schaumburg restaurants -- beginning with Champps Americana -- the old Houlihan's building will be razed and replaced with a LongHorn Steakhouse later this year.
Manny, meanwhile, has been transferred to the Houlihan's in Algonquin. The Lunch Bunch plans to see him there monthly, but it's too far away to make it their new weekly tradition, Luciani said.