The Comeback Kids: Jonathan Griffin and Rathskeller Rockford

Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 6:25 PM CST
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Our next comeback kid wanted to bring the aroma of fresh sausage, schnitzel and potatoes back to the Forest City by purchasing one of Rockford’s oldest restaurant. Now he’s living his dream while transforming the image of the restaurant formally known as Der Rathskeller.

Jonathan Griffin is the chef and owner behind the restaurant, now called Rathskeller Rockford. Jonathan and his business partner purchased the restaurant after its previous owner closed the restaurant back in December 2019. Jonathan says, “All the while, the whole plan coming back to Rockford was to start my own restaurant. When I left Prairie Street, it was a process of looking for restaurant spaces and this place happened to come on the market.”

When the restaurant was for sale, they mad a bid. However at first, they weren’t quick enough. “We decided hey, let’s do this and then the next day I found out it had sold to somebody else. And then that deal fell through about two weeks later. It was really exciting for both of us to embark on this journey. It’s an institution here in Rockford,” Jonathan says.

According to Jonathan, his business partner Jon Reese was a frequent of the original restaurant. The restaurant opened back in 1931, so keeping tradition was important to him. But he wanted to put his own mark on the business too. Jonathan says, “I come from a culinary background, a lot of fine dining. So I really wanted to elevate the cuisine in certain aspects, create new experiences. Give people a taste of Germany that I experienced when I lived over there.”

In addition to his business partner being a frequent of the old restaurant, Jonathan lived in Germany for some time. He says that the original restaurant didn’t fit the Germany he lived in. That’s when it was time for some changes. He made it his mission to have Rockford experience more of a modern Germany. “I lived in a small country town, so it was even more relaxed like a city. I went out to coffee every day, So this area that’s new in the restaurant, it’s kind of based on the German Konditorei, which is kind of the town bakery. You go in and get your morning expresso, and your bread for the day and some rolls, pastries and get the town gossip and all of that,” Jonathan says.

The partners hoped to open in the Spring of 2020, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They delayed the restaurants opening and began extensive renovations. But Jonathan admits it hasn’t been easy since reopening back in October.

Jonathan says, “It’s been difficult, not going to lie. What you can basically count on as far as running a restaurant, you can’t really count on anymore, whether its consistency, people going out it’s just getting people into a new rhythm.” He says the Rockford community is starting to evolve into the restaurants new rhythm, which is definitely more of a relaxed vibe. This was something Jonathan was looking for after spending time in both Los Angeles and New York.

“The culture of being better than everybody else. You have to have the nicer car, the nicer house and the nicer clothes. You just don’t get that here. It’s a little more low key The community has been great so far. We’ve been thankful for people that have come out,” Jonathan says.

While many of the restaurant items are the same, there are plenty of new options and everything is made in house. You can check out the latest menu on their website and their Facebook page.

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