DIXON – Maria Durham never once considered that she might be choosing the wrong career when she bought The Royal Palms.
“I was getting my general education classes out of the way at Sauk, starting a nursing degree, and I just asked myself, ‘Will I regret not doing it, if I let this opportunity pass?’ I knew it was the next step for me,” she said.
So she took that step, on Jan. 1, and the 25-year-old hasn’t looked back since.
Before Maria took over, The Royal Palms had been owned for 43 years by her uncle, Bill Eastman. When he first offered to sell Linda the business, she declined.
Then she thought it over. About a week later, she had changed her mind.
“I will have paid the business off by the time I’m 32, and I can always go back to school,” Maria said. “I really love seeing people every day, and I really like bartending.”
While this is the first time she’s owned a bar, it’s not her first time behind one. Maria has worked as a bartender since she was 19,at Angelo’s III and for her mom, Linda, who worked at the Royal Palms and who also owns Alley Loop Saloon and Deli, across from the Bean Blossom parking lot.
Maria, who has also waited tables at Mama Cimino’s, loves talking to customers.
“I always wanted to own a bar, and I always felt that bartending was an easy way to make money and meet lots of people,” Durham said. “If I’m having a bad day, I get up and come to work and I realize that it’s not so bad.”
Before her uncle Bill owned the bar, Scotty Masters owned it for 18 years, so there’s a lot of history in the two-story building.
It’s part of the reason Maria has been slow to make changes, because she doesn’t want to alter too much about what makes the Palms unique.
“We’ve added some bartenders, now serve 8 new craft beers, offer some specialty items, and we change our draft beers according to the season,” she said. The fall beers include Old Style Oktoberfest, brewed in Wisconsin and available in 16 oz. cans.
There’s also a small menu for folks who get the munchies – several varieties of hot pizza, cheese-filled pretzels or spicy jerky with a side of beer mustard.
Adam Healy, a regular, said he comes in every day for Maria’s smile. “I want to see my friends, and hang out with the crew.”
Maria likes to support community causes, and the Palms has donated to the Dixon River Bandits, Rockford Easter Seals’ golf outing, and other local events. She’s given away bloody mary baskets for auctions, and the annual “cash out” from all the penny tickets from gaming machines collects about $200 for tools for schools. She also gives to the Black Hawk Trail Riders’ fundraiser for Shop with a Cop.
This spring and summer, Maria plans to sponsor a softball team to round out the flag football, dart teams, and pool teams the bar sponsors.
“I’ve teased Mom that she should come back over here and bartend for me for Throw Back Thursdays,” Maria said. “So maybe we’ll do that.”
Also coming in 2018 is a wedding.
Maria will marry her fiance, Greg Burke, along the riverfront.
“It is sort of a way to give back to my town,” she said. “I’ve grown up down here, and I’d like to keep it local.”
THE ROYAL PALMS
83 S Galena, Dixon
Hours: 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday