Why some people have chairs named after them at Stockholm's restaurant in Geneva

  • A chair at Stockholm's Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Geneva features the nameplate of Charley James, the owner's grandfather.

    A chair at Stockholm's Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Geneva features the nameplate of Charley James, the owner's grandfather. Courtesy of Dave Heun

 
 
Updated 6/3/2022 2:26 PM

Charley James would undoubtedly approve of where his "chair" is situated at Stockholm's Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Geneva.

Owner Michael Olesen draws a Red Ale beer at Stockholm's Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Geneva.
Owner Michael Olesen draws a Red Ale beer at Stockholm's Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Geneva. - Courtesy of Dave Heun

One of the chairs right up against the bar in this popular pub has "Charley" on the nameplate attached to its back.

Considering that every chair in the restaurant has a commemorative nameplate on the back as a tribute to anyone who helped owner Michael Olesen open Stockholm's 20 years ago, it is important to note Charley may have had the most significant role of any helper.

"Charley was my grandfather, and he was really the one who gave me a love of the tavern business," Olesen said. "We became drinking buddies."

Red Ale beer is served at Stockholm's Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Geneva.
Red Ale beer is served at Stockholm's Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Geneva. - Courtesy of Dave Heun

But that close connection to his grandfather wasn't just about knocking down a cold one on occasion. After years of working and managing numerous pubs throughout the Fox Valley region, it catapulted Olesen into eventually becoming a bar owner.

"One of the first places Charley took me was Cotti's Tavern in Elburn," Olesen said. "I loved the tavern atmosphere and ended up working in places in Elgin, Aurora and West Chicago."

Stockholm's site at 306 W. State St. had its own long history as a local pub. The restaurant displays a historical photo from the early 1960s, showing the location of The Derby Lounge at that time.

It was also the Firehouse, operated by former fireman Chuck Lencioni, and then Dad's Place through different owners who ran into some legal woes with the city when some minors were served alcohol.

"I had initially wanted to buy the bar from the Lencioni family but wasn't able to," Olesen said. After Dad's Place closed, the site sat empty for 3 years before Olesen completed a deal to purchase the site and open it in May of 2002.

Stockholm's Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Geneva was once known as the Derby Lounge.
Stockholm's Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Geneva was once known as the Derby Lounge. - Courtesy of Dave Heun

Since then, Olesen's bar and restaurant has built a loyal following throughout the Tri-Cities area, lending some credence to the importance of the people whose names grace the brass nameplates on the restaurant chairs. They all must have had a fairly good notion that this would be a place with some staying power in a downtown area known for its excellent restaurants.

"The names are those who helped me get this place going," Olesen explained. "It's mostly friends and family, as I called upon them quite extensively."

But others earned a "piece" of Geneva history with the honor of a chair nameplate.

"Sometimes, it was just someone who might have stuck their head in here while we were getting it ready, and they helped move some things around, or clean up, or help fix things," he added.

While the chair nameplates make for an interesting and unique feature in this American pub with a Swedish theme, Olesen has had critical support that is almost unheard of these days.

"I have three people who have been with me here since day one," Olesen proudly noted.

Stockholm's Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Geneva has built a loyal following throughout the Tri-Cities area, lending some credence to the importance of the people whose names grace the brass nameplates on the restaurant chairs.
Stockholm's Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Geneva has built a loyal following throughout the Tri-Cities area, lending some credence to the importance of the people whose names grace the brass nameplates on the restaurant chairs. - Courtesy of Dave Heun

Those three employees are Dimas Montiel, Leonel Montiel and Vincente Xolta, whose son Armando Xolta has been at Stockholm's for 18 years. And it's not entirely uncommon for other employees, like Bill Soutar, to have been there more than 10 years.

"I did everything I could to keep the staff during the COVID lockdowns," Olesen said. "We stayed open for lunch and dinner carryouts, and then with limited seating."

Even though the fight against COVID isn't likely to ever entirely go away, Olesen is happy to see his restaurant bustling again consistently.

"It doesn't take long for this place to fill up," he said around 11 a.m. on a Saturday as customers began to come in. "And that's a good thing."

Finding parents for goslings

It seemed odd that a young woman in the Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva was chasing and picking up baby goslings that seemed to simply be following their Canada geese parents around near the Fox River.

"Don't worry, I'm not abducting the babies," she said. "I work for the forest preserve, and I'm just helping these baby geese find a group that will take them."

Apparently, goslings can sometimes get separated from their parents, and then they will start following any goose they might see. Some geese don't want the little ones around, and they will ignore them, the forest preserve employee told us.

So, she gathered up some goslings, put them in a carrying case and began looking for a group that might take them in.

It was fascinating to watch. She would hold up a gosling, wait for a goose to approach, and make some favorable gesture about letting the gosling follow along.

We have no idea how she knew which ones to approach and which ones to steer clear of.

The forest preserve employees know their business, however, and that's a good thing for goslings that might be wandering around aimlessly.

A baseball 'character'

If ever St. Charles was graced with a "character," it was former Major League pitcher Bob Miller, who became a well-known face in town starting in the mid-1990s.

Though I hadn't seen Bob in about 15 years, the news of his passing last week brought back immediate memories. Once he got to know you, it meant you would learn a lot about him, his past experiences in baseball, and his inner circle of professional athlete friends. He was that kind of guy.

Miller went about the business of letting anyone within earshot know who he was, how he remained involved in baseball as CEO of the Major League Baseball Alumni Association and, most definitely, how many sports stars he knew. They also learned how he could get them to appear at various fundraisers and take their photos with Bob and his close friends.

I never got involved in any of Miller's philanthropic work, and he surely had a few hits and misses when trying to expand the work of his foundation. But mostly, he and his wife Carol did many good things for various organizations and charities.

I remember Miller as a terrific baseball storyteller and golfer. I played golf with him in a St. Charles Chamber of Commerce outing at Pheasant Run about 25 years ago now, and he hit a golf ball with a 3-wood off the fairway about as far as I have ever seen. The shot got him on the green in two on a long par five.

He loved to tell stories about his days as a young man with the Detroit Tigers in the mid-1950s, especially the one about how some of his teammates convinced some ladies of the night to swoon for Mickey Mantle when the Yankees were in Detroit for a series. The idea was to keep him out all night before a Sunday doubleheader.

The ladies completed that task. Miller and his teammates were sure Mantle would miss the scheduled games, especially after missing batting practice.

Miller noted that Mantle played and smashed three or four home runs over the two games.

Whether it actually played out that way or Bob embellished it ever so slightly, it was his retelling of this tale and big laugh about it that sticks with you forever.

I was grateful to Miller in early 2002 when I was looking for a new job in communications. He forwarded my name to various hospitals and organizations in which he had contacts to see if he could help in any way.

Overall, he was a "character," for sure. The kind that doesn't come around too often.

Time for dinner again

We need a large gathering like this, which calls for plenty of volunteers and participants looking for a fun time while also helping a local charity.

After putting the "table" away the past two years because of COVID concerns, Batavia MainStreet is bringing back a popular community event.

The city's downtown promotional organization has scheduled the fifth Batavia Dinner Table gathering for 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7, along Batavia's North River Street.

Funds from the 200-person family-style dinner are donated to the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry. Prior gatherings have raised $39,000 for the food pantry.

Tickets for the multicourse meal and beverages are $85. The dinner includes wine and beer service, so all attendees must be 21 or older.

Tickets went on sale June 1, and organizers expect them to sell quickly on the downtownbatavia.com website.

Correct that date

In last week's column about the summer programs and exhibits at our local history museums, I noted a butter-making program for kids being held at the St. Charles History Museum.

The correct date for that is 10 a.m. Saturday, June 11. Kids will essentially learn what it was like 150 years ago when the children in the family were expected to help Mom make butter. And they get to bring home their creation.

dheun@sbcglobal.net

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