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The Breakers Restaurant marks 65th anniversary

Published: Friday, May 16, 2014 5:05 p.m. CDT
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(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Chef Henry Tsang works in the kitchen at The Breakers Restaurant in Crystal Lake. Tsang has worked in the kitchen at the restaurant for 45 years.
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(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Bartender Lynne Helstrom hands a customer a drink while working at The Breakers Restaurant in Crystal Lake. The restaurant is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year.
Caption
(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Patrons dine a drink at The Breakers Restaurant in Crystal Lake. The restaurant is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year.

CRYSTAL LAKE – Judy McGurn walks around the dimly lit bar to get a better look at some photos a customer displays on a tablet. 

The modern device seems slightly out of place, as everywhere else one looks, the transportation to a ’50s tiki scene is complete. Above McGurn’s head, blue-green fish net hangs from the ceiling. Coral, blue and green lights glow from within puffer fish over the bar. 

Rattan walls and bamboo trim adorn the dining room walls and ceiling. Toy parrots perch. A tall tiki stands sentry. 

All of this and more greet visitors to The Breakers Restaurant at 7728 Route 14. Celebrating its 65th anniversary this spring, The Breakers has looked much the same for decades. And the regulars – who rave about the distinctive Mai Tais and mouth-watering egg rolls – would not have it any other way.

“The food is fabulous,” said Marty Krenger of Bull Valley. “I always order the curry chicken, and I’ve been coming here since 1974 with my father when I was in sixth grade. I also love the entertainment on the weekends.”

McGurn, of Crystal Lake, manages the Chinese restaurant and co-owns it with her mother, Jo-Ann Spielman, who has retired to Deming, New Mexico.

The place has been like a second home for McGurn since 1975. And her 22-year-old daughter, Emily McGurn, now is a waitress at The Breakers.

“I started working here when I was 14, as a bus girl,” Judy McGurn said. “I have bused, waitressed, washed dishes, hostessed and bartended.”

Judy McGurn and her mother wound up with ownership of The Breakers in 2008. 

“Mom started working here in 1969 as a waitress,” McGurn said. “When the original owners, Leonard and Marion Felcman, retired, they offered my mom the position of manager. They said they would leave the restaurant to her in their will, and they did.”

McGurn is not the only employee with deep roots at The Breakers. The cooks are third-generation members of original chef George Don, and head waiter Danny Kakazu, who is 65, has worked here for five decades.

“I’ve waited on several generations of families who have been coming here for years,” Kakazu said. “I wouldn’t be here if the food and drinks hadn’t stayed the same. The quality of the food and the drinks hasn’t changed, and that’s what’s been keeping the business alive.”

McGurn said The Breakers’ sameness in a sea of change is one of its chief draws. Other than a complete kitchen overhaul that occurred after a motorist crashed into the building in early 2013, little is different from when the Felcmans ran it, she said.

“When you think about how much the world has changed in the last 65 years, it’s just amazing that a little place like this is still in business,” she said. “And we’re thriving.”

McGurn said she attributes the place’s success throughout the recession in part to people choosing The Breakers as a tiny get-away. For those who enjoy tropical drinks, McGurn and others said the restaurant’s Mai Tais are a must-try. 

“Our recipe is a deep dark secret,” she said. “They’re not as sweet as most, they’re stronger than most, and they come with a rock candy swizzle stick.”

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The Breakers Restaurant

Location: 7728 Route 14, Crystal Lake

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 4-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 4-9 p.m. Sundays

Featuring: Chinese, Cantonese and American cuisine

Known for: Egg rolls, Mai Tais, ’50s tiki atmosphere, right- and left-handed chopsticks

Information, reservations: 815-459-9860

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