ALGONQUIN – Inside of the Port Edward Restaurant at Harrison Street and Algonquin Road are former church pews used for booths, an old ships' wheels, harpoons, a sperm whale's jaw bone, divers' helmets and a diver's suit and boots hanging on the walls.
Pulley systems divide booths, and lobster traps hang over tables. There's even a 25-foot sailboat where people can eat dinner.
"So many of the artifacts on display are museum quality. They're antiques," said Port Edward Assistant General Manager Charles Kaskadden Jr.
The many sea-related artifacts are part of the decor of the restaurant, that this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Port Edward is planning events, such as wine tastings and cooking classes, throughout the year to mark the milestone.
When owner Edward Wolowiec came to the area in 1960, he was a partner in the Anchor Lounge, which sits in the same location. Wolowiec eventually bought out his business partner and started Port Edward in 1964.
Algonquin used to be a "meat and potatoes" town, Wolowiec said, and the Anchor Lounge served pizzas and sandwiches. The experienced diver however wanted to serve seafood. After making the change, the restaurant's revenue dropped to almost nothing, Wolowiec said.
However there were predictions from the government that seafood consumption would increase.
"With all my collections and nautical things, I put this whole thing together," Wolowiec said. "That was the start of Port Edward."
Over the years, they added meat to the menu because not everyone liked to eat seafood.
"We'll have our basic core menu items and introduce things that are seasonal. Availability, and right now sustainability is a big thing," Wolowiec said. "We've pulled off on sword fish, and run the rainbow trouts, and the ever popular tilapia that's all farmed raised. That's sustainable."
Wolowiec became interested in the restaurant business as he traveled while playing in bands. The flute player would hang out in kitchens of different venues to learn about the industry.
When he taught music in Chicago, the father of one of his students brought him to Algonquin.
"The view just got me, it was beautiful," Wolowiec said.
Over the years, the restaurant has expanded from the original 50-by-70-foot building, to the 22,000- to 25,000-square-foot business over two stories next to the Fox River.
In the basement there is a wine cellar and gift shop.
The restaurant holds up to 450 people, and goes up to 500 people when its warm enough to add outside seating.
Even though seafood is generally a pricier meal, the restaurant keeps most entrées are under $30, and the restaurant wants to encourage people to come in when it's not a special day.
"So many people think Port Edward is a special occasion. We want that connotation to go to the side a little bit," Kaskadden said. "We want people to come to all of our events, when we've introduced a new special, or we're having a wine dinner. We want people to come in and join us just because."
It's a place where people may wear jeans, a button down shirt and suit jacket, but it's nothing that has to be enforced, Kaskadden said. However, they to do steer people away from swimming gear.
The table cloths and white napkins help reinforce the restaurant as being casual fine dining.
"We don't want people to think its so expensive we only go once or twice a year," Kaskadden said.
The restaurant has 80 to 85 employees. That number increases in the summer to about 90 when the restaurant sets up outside seating.
"Some of our employees have been with us ... for four or five decades," Kaskadden said.
Wolowiec said having perseverance and people who share his vision as among the things that have helped keep the restaurant strong.
"The word I use a lot is 'respect,'" Wolowiec said. "There should be more talk about that, from the people who are the dishwashers, to the assistant general manager."
Port Edward Restaurant
Where: 20 W. Algonquin Road in Algonquin
Phone number: 847-658-5441