Dining at Vogel’s Restaurant – One of Whiting’s Finest
Jan Vogel Hahn
Posted in December 2018
(This article was written for the WRite Stuff many years ago by Jan Vogel Hahn who, like the rest of the Vogel family, knew the importance of sharing and saving family history. When this was written over 20 years ago, the casino boats had just opened in our area. It is interesting to read Jan’s take on what she hoped the addition of this entertainment might bring in the future.)
Throughout the history of Vogel’s, we, the Vogel family, have experienced both prosperous and difficult times.
Fred Vogel was born in 1890 and raised in Whiting. He was the eldest son of 10 children. Fred’s father died at the age of 36, so he had to drop out of school in the 5th grade in order to help his mother support the family. He took over for his dad and worked and operated a beer distributing agency for Fox Head Brewing Company out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The building at 117th Street and Cleveland Avenue was used as a warehouse to store barrels of beer that were delivered by train from Milwaukee and dropped off in Whiting. Later on, the building was turned into a convenience neighborhood grocery store in which Fred’s mother and sisters Alice and Emma ran. Fred delivered barrels of beer by horse and carriage from Whiting to Hammond down Sheffield Avenue.
Ida Lauer came to the United States from Erfelt, Germany in 1909 at the age of 17. She was working at a boarding house on Sheffield Avenue (near Grooner’s Grove), when she met Fred Vogel. Fred would stop and deliver beer and spoke fluent German since his mother was from Germany. Since Ida did not speak any English, she was happy to converse with Fred. They married about a year later.
Fred and Ida had two sons: Bill Vogel born in 1911, and Robert Vogel born in 1913. Fred and Ida opened up their own boarding house and “saloon” around 1915 at the location of Indianapolis Boulevard and Roberts Avenue. Fred also worked at the Whiting refinery but always wanted to open a larger restaurant and wanted to be his own boss. After serving his country during WWI, Fred returned and started searching for an ideal location. Calumet and Indianapolis Boulevard were loaded with restaurants: Phil Smidt’s, Pete Levent’s, George Levents’, Dave Lungren’s, Margaret’s Geneva House, Hammond Beach Inn, Roby Inn, and Camp Cunio.
A building was available at 2501 Calumet near Sheffield Avenue. It was located on the road that cuts across Lake George and enters Calumet College. Fred spent different hours of the day for weeks watching the traffic, tallying license plates and realized it would be a good location for a restaurant.
Fred and Ida closed the boarding house around 1921 and leased the new location which held the capacity of 100 customers. This restaurant location operated for about a year and a half until early one morning the building was completely destroyed by a fire. Unfortunately, there was no insurance to speak of what-so-ever. Fred and Ida did not give up hope. They hired a few people to clear the area and rebuild a similar building with 100 guest capacity. Business was promising and after a few years. Fred added on to the restaurant which handled 450 guests.
During this time fishing and hunting in this area was very popular. Perch from the Great Lakes was a great favorite and perch boned and buttered continues to be a delicacy and Vogel’s specialty.
In the early 1930’s frog legs became another specialty dinner item. Both Vogel brothers (Bill and Bob) created their own frog raising farm behind the restaurant on Lake George until popularity and frog consumption became too great for them to continue. Then they received their shipment of frogs from Florida and other southern states. The majority of our frogs today, in the mid 1990’s, are shipped from Bangladesh. Business continued to be prosperous until around 1938.
Traffic changes and rerouting cut off the traveling traffic going on Calumet Avenue. Traffic going north and south was directed back to Indianapolis Boulevard. Fred and Ida bought property on 1250 Indianapolis Blvd which is now the current location of Vogel’s restaurant.
To build the present restaurant took about six years. Fred went to Washington DC to get a government loan but was refused for being a “one-purpose” building. Fred had many friends and he sold them stock in the restaurant. Fred still had another hurdle. During this time (during WWII) building material was hard to find. He contacted a contractor in Algonquin, Illinois who built schools. His warehouse was huge and loaded with building materials.
The lease on the property on Calumet Avenue ran out. Standard Oil was in control of the property and gave Fred and Ida one year to relocate. Fred and Ida closed the restaurant on Calumet Avenue and used what materials they could salvage from the closed business. The present location had its “Grand Opening” in August of 1944. The seating capacity could hold 1000 guests.
Business was excellent in the late 1940s and in early 1950s. The steel mills and refineries were booming. Everyone was working overtime and all traffic going north and south had to be routed on Indianapolis Boulevard.
The Indiana Toll Road and Chicago Skyway was constructed and took away a lot of the traffic traveling north and south on Indianapolis Boulevard. This was a big blow for the Calumet area businesses. Insurance companies put pressure on industries and would increase their liability insurance if employees were allowed to leave the plant to have lunch at local restaurants. The industries put in their own commissaries to take care of feeding employees with discount prices.
Fred Vogel passed away October 11, 1952 and his wife Ida turned the restaurant over to her sons Bill and Robert Vogel. Shortly after, Bill wanted to go out on his own and he opened up a drive-in restaurant and later on opened up a fine dining restaurant called “The Flame” which was located in Gary. Bill passed away in 1963.
Rob Vogel remodeled the exterior and interior of the present location in 1960 hoping it would improve business. Ida passed away before the remodeling was completed. The new elegant look improved business a great deal. Political doings, company parties, weddings, christening, etc. kept Vogel’s on its feet.
Bob’s wife Ellen, besides raising their three children Paul, Jan, and Cheryl, kept active in the restaurant’s business affairs by managing the books and greeting the guests. Together they have witnessed the ups and downs of owning their own business.
In 1993, Paul and Jan saw that their parents could use some help with the restaurant. Cheryl and her family were living in Memphis, otherwise she would have been present to help as well. In 1995, Bob decided to retire due to ill health. He turned over operation of the restaurant to Paul and Jan.
At the present we are hoping the gambling will develop more attractions that will spark up more interests in the Calumet Region. We expect more living quarters, amusement parks, shopping centers, hotels, condos, etc. There are many things on the planning board that if developed can make this area popular again. So far, nothing is in sight. Ever since gambling and their restaurants and beverage bars are serving at bargain prices, we have noticed a decline in business. The regulations put on perch fishing for commercial fisherman has forced us to raise our prices and has given us another hurdle to jump over. It has become almost impossible for us to get fresh perch.
Vogel’s restaurant is the oldest family run restaurant in the Calumet region. The Vogel name has been in the restaurant business for over 75 years.
(Note: Vogel’s Restaurant Closed September 28, 1997 –Property was sold January 1998.)