TOWN OF GENEVA — The newest restaurant in town is in a little place with a lot of history.
Located at the French Country Inn, W4190 West End Road, Stefana’s Lakeside Dining will hold its grand opening Feb. 2.
In a soft opening stage since Thanksgiving, Stefana’s manager, Lara Perkins, said staff is excited to launch its plans for the Italian steakhouse.
“We’ve been getting so much support from locals because everybody has been so anxious for a new place to finally reopen that, so far, we’ve just been hearing positive things,” she said.
Located on the south shore of Lake Como, the view seems to draw people who also enjoy large portions of food served at reasonable prices, said Perkins.
“It’s a historical building,” she said, “and we have a really nice spot on the lake.”
The history appeals to people like Joe Tominaro, director of marketing and development for VISIT Lake Geneva, the regional chamber of commerce and tourism agency.
Having grown up in New York City, Tominaro admits an affinity for gangster lore. And with Stefana’s being in a spot once popular with the likes of John Dillinger, Bugs Moran and Al Capone, Tominaro said it gives the place added appeal.
“Most of the shenanigans happened in Lake Como,” Tominaro said.
VISIT Lake Geneva President Ed Svitak also recognized the history of the place, but he believes Stefana’s has other attributes that will make it a good addition to restaurants in the area.
“The patio, the scenic views of Lake Como — it’s spectacular,” he said. “I just think they have an opportunity to make a great run.”
The buildings that house French Country Inn and Stefana’s date back to a time before the federal government’s experiment with prohibition of alcohol.
According to the French Country Inn website, the guesthouse and parts of the main house were built in Denmark in the 1880s, including the solid oak staircase and parquet floors.
Called the Danish Pavilion, the buildings were transported by boat to Chicago for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair.
After the fair, the pavilion buildings were moved by rail to the spot that is now Stefana’s and the French Country Inn. A Chicago railroad line had a stop near the current location of Stefana’s.
First used as an ice storage house, then a private hunt club, it was purchased in 1921 by Christian Hermansen, a Dane believed to have worked on the Danish Pavilion prior to the 1893 World’s Fair.
The property stayed in the Hermansen family for three generations.
In the 1930s, it was a hangout for gangster legends John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Bugs Moran.
“Al Capone reputably also stayed at the hotel,” said local historian Patrick Quinn. Quinn said Christian’s son, Hobart “Hobie” Hermansen, married Lucille Moran, ex-wife of Bugs.
Hobie Hermansen also owned Hotel Geneva, in Lake Geneva, which was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
“Bugs’ stepson, John, worked as a bartender in the bar of the Hotel Geneva and would frequently serve me — an underage teenager — beer in the bar during the 1950s,” Quinn said.
In 1971, the property was sold to Fay and Gene Leichtey, who changed it to The Red Chimney Inn. It was renamed the French Country Inn after the Navilio family purchased it in 1986.
Anthony Navilio currently owns the Inn, said Perkins.
Stefana’s is owned by Charles DiNolfo, who is leasing the property from Navilio.
Perkins said Stefana’s is named after one of DiNolfo’s daughters, and, being an Italian family, the menu focuses on pastas, seafood, and steaks.
She admitted the bar has been set high by the former Kirsch’s at the French Country Inn, a restaurant that was in operation more than 30 years before it closed in 2011.
Live entertainment is a focus for Stefana’s, said Perkins, and management wants to host special events such as weddings, family reunions and other types of gatherings.
Through social media and good old-fashioned word of mouth, Stefana’s has already built a following, Perkins said. On New Year’s Eve, the place was packed, with a DJ in the bar and a four-course meal among the amenities.
“It was probably the fullest we’ve been since we’ve opened,” Perkins said. “It was so nice to see this restaurant finally alive again.”