It seems only fitting that the 66th annual Litchfield Chamber of Commerce banquet honor a couple who have spent their lives working in a restaurant along Route 66.
"It's an honor to the Adam family and the staff at The Ariston," said Nick Adam, who along with his wife, Demi, were named the Business People of the Year. "It came as a complete surprise to us."
The Ariston Cafe was started in 1924 in Carlinville by Nick's dad, Pete Adam. When he learned that Route 66 would indeed come through Litchfield instead of Carlinville, he leased a restaurant for five years at the site of the new Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center.
Pete briefly partnered with Tom Cokonios in 1935 to move The Ariston to its current location.
"Location is important," Nick said of why The Ariston has been successful over the years.
Route 66 certainly has been a special place for The Ariston, and 66 remains a number close to the hearts of the Adam family.
"Demi and I got married in 1966 and came to Litchfield in 1966 to operate a restaurant on Route 66," Nick said. "It's serendipity."
Just before they were to be married, Nick and Demi returned to Litchfield to see his parents. His dad, who at the time was 75, was still involved in the restaurant.
"It was something he had worked his whole life for," Nick said. "So I asked my fiancee if she would come back with me."
Demi said Nick left the final decision up to her. She had just gotten a job working for the Pennsylvania Railroad in Pittsburgh, PA, where Nick was already working.
Although she was hired to work for the railroad, Demi was no stranger to life in the restaurant business. Her parents owned The Court restaurant for many years on 26th and California in Chicago.
"My mom suggested I marry a good person, someone kind, and no one in the restaurant business," Demi said with a smile. "But this was my choice."
She decided that Litchfield was closer to her hometown of Chicago, and the couple decided to return and run the restaurant for six years.
"Here we are 47 years later," Nick said. "Litchfield has been good to us. We have a lot of good friends and it's just a good place to be."
When they returned home in 1966, Nick and Demi made some changes to the restaurant, including expanding the menu to include Mexican food and prime rib.
"Prime rib was a really tough sell at first," Adam said. "People had different eating habits back then and they did not eat out as much as they do now."
Demi said now they have customers who not only eat with them once a day, but twice a day.
"We're always so grateful to our customers," she said.
The couple had three children, Paul, Maria and Jon, and all three of them worked in some facet of the restaurant.
"It's always been a family-run operation, and there is almost always a family member present. We also try to be very, very service oriented, and we have a really great staff."
Adam said they encourage their servers to treat their patrons how they would like to be served when dining in a restaurant.
Of their children, Maria was a server, while both boys worked the buffet tables and Paul was a cook.
"Paul's always been a far better cook than I ever was," Nick said."He pushes the kitchen to do more things."
In 2004, Paul returned to help his parents full-time at The Ariston.
"We're so proud of what he's done," Nick said. "He has expanded the menu and the different things we cook. We take great pleasure in working with Paul."
Over the years, the busy restaurant has kept Nick and Demi from participating with various organizations, but they do enjoy their time in the community. In 2009, Nick was honored by the Litchfield Rotary Club as its Veiled Non-Profit for his service to the community.
And while they take great pride in serving the community of Litchfield, the Adam couple delight in serving customers from all over the world.
They come from all over the United States and from countries around the world to tour Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, CA. Last year alone, they had customers from 42 different countries. They always encourage everyone to sign the guest book on the front counter, and Demi has an entire plastic tub full of guest books from over the years.
"As a rule, they are just delightful," Demi said. "For many it's not their first trip to the restaurant. Many have come five or six times."
Of all the visitors over the years, they have only had two from Greece, the family origin for the Adam family. Since Nick and Demi both speak Greek, they enjoyed visiting with the couple, and hope to see more visitors from Greece.
"We have met so many fantastic travelers," Nick said. "It's always been my dream to travel Route 66. I just love to hear why our guests are traveling the road."
They have had honeymooners from Rome, Paris and Venice, an 82-year-old traveler from Uma, AZ, who rode on a Russian motorcycle and a sidecar, and many, many more adventurers.
One of Nick' favorite stories is a 32-year-old man from France who rode a tandem bicycle with his 12-year-old nephew from Chicago to LA in more than 40 days.
"They sent us a postcard to let us know they made it okay, and how much they enjoyed our restaurant," Nick said.
In addition to the Route 66 tourists, several celebrities have dined at The Ariston over the years, including Mike Wolfe of "American Pickers," Frankie Valli, St. Louis Cardinals announcer Mike Shannon, and one of Nick's favorites, Jean Tripplehorn of "The Firm" and "Big Love," who stopped in with her son.
But of all the stories and all the visitors, in the end, for Nick and Demi, it all comes down to family and friends.
They have three children, Paul, and his wife, Joy, who is a sixth grade teacher at Litchfield Middle School, Jon, who works in home remodeling projects and his wife, Amy, who works at Litchfield Curves, and the late Maria Storm, who passed away in 2005. They also have five grandchildren, Adam Storm, age 13, and Peter Storm, age 11, both of Bloomington, IN, Nicholas Adam, age four, Leah Adam, age two, and Maria Adam, who is almost two.
"I just really love what I do," Nick said.