In 1982, Tom Mannos never imagined the desolate Loop location that surrounded his restaurant, Exchequer Restaurant & Pub, would evolve into one of the busiest locations downtown, bringing them success for 32 years.
“It was really scary at first,” said Mannos, reflecting on when he and his brothers, George and Jim, first bought the restaurant from fellow Greek-Americans back in March of 1982. “This place was like a ghost town; mainly everything around us was vacant.”
The brothers owned a grocery store when word spread through their Greek community that the owner of Exchequer Pub was looking to sell the restaurant. After checking out the pub, the brothers decided to invest everything into the restaurant, even mortgaging their houses. It became a family affair for the Mannos; their father chipped in willingly when his sons began their adventure as new restaurant owners.
Located at 226 S. Wabash Ave., Exchequer experienced a rough patch for its first four years due to the heavy duty construction that was taking place up and down Wabash. This created many vacant stores around the restaurant and allowed space for panhandlers to settle in.
“This was not the best area to be in,” explained Mannos.
The brothers’ luck changed when construction finished and pricey condos and deluxe residences popped up along South Michigan Avenue, attracting a more prestigious clientele that included business people and tourists. As the area began expanding, Exchequer’s grew with it.
“We used to close at 6 P.M. and be closed on Sundays with two or three servers on a night shift,” said Mannos. “Now, we are open every day and require 10 servers at night.” It was 15 years before the pub opened up on Sundays.
“We are always pretty busy, and we have a lot of regulars,” said Geena Greezca, a 20-year-old hostess at Exchequer’s. “I could not imagine what it was like when they first started out because it is nothing like that now.”
As the brothers became more accustomed to the business, they remodeled the restaurant considering it had not been renovated since 1969.
The restaurant is rumored to have been a speakeasy back in the 1920s where infamous mob boss Al Capone was a frequent patron and resided just a few blocks south. Well-aware and extremely interested, the brothers wanted to display the history of the location and the area throughout their pub. Now over 500 memorabilia, including a mural, is placed throughout the restaurant depicting the surrounding Loop and the building’s history.
“We didn’t just want a mural of the skyline, we wanted one of the area that surrounded us,” said Mannos.
The mural was painted by John Archur, a student at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Today, you can run into one of the brothers any day of the week at the restaurant because one of them will be there. As Tom walks through the restaurant, the chatter at the bar tends to steer in his direction. Bar patrons constantly call out his name and yell, “There he is!” as he walks past, showing the dedicated followers that have accumulated over the years.
“I see a lot of the same people come back every week,” said Oscar Manzano, a 34-year-old carpenter who frequents Exchequer’s at least once a week either during his lunch break or on his off days.
“It’s a good atmosphere with good food,” Manzano said.
The Mannos brothers have provided the people of the Loop with award-winning deep dish pizza and a sense of neighborhood in a big city.
“You do the best you can, that’s all you can do. God has given us many blessings,” said Mannos.