His hair was shorter and not salt and pepper, his waistline was smaller, but his energy is still high and his outlook is as bright as it was in early August, 1985, when Dave Samber opened his Polo Nuts and Candy, Etc. in a renovated storefront at 3322 S. Morgan Street in Chicago.
It became a popular neighborhood stop for more than 400 items, including old-fashioned penny candy, varieties of nuts and seeds, coffee beans, sugar-free chocolates, ice cream, freshly popped popcorn, gift baskets, stuffed animals, gourmet cookies, and those unforgettable "Black Cow's" made with vanilla ice cream and Filbert's Draft Root Beer.
In 1990, Samber moved in tables with booths and took out some candy cases and shelves, installed a used four-burner range and walk-in cooler, bought second-hand pots and dishes to open Polo Café and Catering Bridgeport U.S.A. which later expanded in 1996 with more seating and a bigger kitchen, and recently again to make more space in the dining room for more guests. It currently is top-ranked ( No. 2 ) among more than 7,800 Chicago restaurants on tripadvisor.com .
Samber acquired the building next door in 1992, also built in 1914, and was a neighborhood picture show called "The Eagle" until about 1952 when it was turned into a pickle depot. Later in early 1960s, two guys from the area opened and ran the T & R Auto Repair Shop in that space. Financing stalled for nearly four years as few believed in Samber's dream to create a beautiful private room attached to his restaurant. Eventually, Chicago Community Bank made the construction loan and "The Old Eagle Room" opened almost 18 years ago, in 1997.
To complete his destination hospitality center, Samber established the Bridgeport Bed and Breakfast on the two floors above Polo Café, providing four suites accommodating up to 20 guests, "depending on who's sleeping with whom," Samber calculates. He continues to live and office on the fourth floor of his century-old building.
Polo Café was a vendor at The Taste of Chicago for 21 consecutive years until 2012, offering some 500,000 slices of delicious Garlic-Mozzarella Cheese Bread, more than 2 million Baked Crab Cake Nuggets, and more than 24 other selections, like Shark Vera Cruz, Stuffed Salmon Fillet, Grilled Pork Chops, Quesadillas, Stuffed Peppers, Stuffed Shells, Pork Sliders, Steak Fries, Crème BrÃ»lée au Chocolat, and even Chocolate Cup Cakes filled with Mashed Potatoes. Samber also gave cooking demonstrations on the Taste Cooking Stage.
Whether on Morgan or at a client's location, Polo Café caters a variety of events, including many LGBT events. Chef Dave still personally oversees the details.
"30 years on Morgan are full of countless memories, and yet the future is every bit as exciting," reflects Samber. "We have such tremendous experience and talented staff to create 'something different … something wonderful!' on Morgan for many more years to come." Morgan Street is undergoing a major streetscape and "we've just got to live long enough to see it finished … I have so much to be grateful for."
See www.polocafe.com/ .