Restaurant Profile: Meet a family who’s fixed up an old horse-carriage factory into a classy steakhouse in downtown Geneva, and discover why it’s just like a famous television hangout.
Longtime customers at FoxFire have compared this Geneva steakhouse to Cheers, the fictitious TV bar in Boston, “where everybody knows your name.”
“It’s a relaxed, friendly atmosphere,” says co-owner Curt Gulbro. “Like a family, everyone here knows each other. If you have happy customers and happy employees, you can’t help but be successful. It makes going to work fun.”
Gulbro and Dick O’Gorman opened FoxFire in 2003, at 17 W. State St., in an historic storefront not far from the Fox River. “I was bored with retirement,” says Gulbro, who once owned a communication firm that he sold to NEXTEL, where he later worked before retiring for good. He had no prior restaurant experience.
A year later, son K.C. joined the business as his dad’s partner. Unlike his father, K.C. did have a background in restaurant management, having operated various Iowa eateries.
“Working with my dad has been a dream come true,” says K.C. “I’ve learned so much from him. We don’t butt heads and we work well together.” K.C.’s brother Jim recently joined the team as well.
The atmosphere at FoxFire is elegant and intimate, thanks to décor that includes original exposed brick and wooden trellises from the early 1900s. The restaurant is located in a historic building that was once a manufacturing house for horse-drawn carriages.
The partners spent six months renovating the space before opening eight years ago. “It was a labor of love,” says Gulbro. “It has an Old Chicago feel.” Over the decades, the 5,000-square-foot space has been home to a variety of businesses, including a bicycle shop, meat locker, antique store and women’s apparel boutique.
The menu specializes in steaks, from filets and chops to tender, slow-cooked prime rib. “Steak is our claim to fame,” says K.C. But it’s not the only one. Fresh seafood dishes include Cajun ahi tuna, crab-stuffed tilapia and Friday and Saturday market-fresh specials.
The lunch menu offers a wide range of sandwiches, and it’s no surprise that a signature steak sandwich is among them.
Desserts include sorbet, crème brûlée and baked goods delivered daily from a Chicago bakery.
The dining experience at FoxFire has been enhanced by Executive Chef Kevin Gillespie, who works in a New York-style kitchen that customers can view from any seat in the house. “Chef Kevin brings plenty of experience and a unique style to the customer’s plate,” says K.C.
FoxFire offers a full bar and an extensive wine list; more than 50 wines may be ordered by the glass. The bar is cozy, with space for 20 – ideal for a pre-dinner drink. “It’s not a sports bar, but it’s still a great place to gather,” says Gulbro.
FoxFire seats 200 guests indoors, and there’s a three-season patio with umbrella-topped tables for 50 more. The clientele mostly hails from St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia.
FoxFire is popular for special occasions, including baby showers, birthday parties and wedding rehearsals. The Gulbros support various charity events, such as a chili cook-off that benefits local firefighters.
“The most rewarding thing is the relationship we’ve developed with our customers and staff,” says K.C. “We’ve formed many great friendships over the years.”
Just like Cheers.
FoxFire is open Monday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m. ❚