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At home with Ralphie and LuLu’s

ASHTON – Ralphie & LuLu’s origin story is pretty simple:

“It all started when I opened my big mouth 18 years ago,” owner Dave Balch said.

The spot came up for rent, and “I told a guy that he should rent it out and sell beer. About 2 years later, he came around and said he decided he would.”

A year after that, Balch took over what by then was a fully functioning restaurant and bar.

He named it Ralphie & Lulu’s, the nicknames of two of his grandchildren – “Ralphie,” who was about 4 years old at the time, and “Lulu,” who was less than a year.

Time has passed, and the restaurant – and the kids – have grown considerably. “Now, I look straight at Lulu, and I have to look up to see Ralphie,” Balch said.

This summer, Ralphie & Lulu’s began its 18th year in business, and it couldn’t have made it without the commitment of the entire family to the restaurant’s success.

There’s a full bar and menu. The specialty is fried chicken, and a crowd favorite is Chicken Ralphie, hand-battered chicken strips.

They serve a lot of fish, such as cod and bluegill, and the steak and pork chops are always a huge hit with the locals. Ralphie & Lulu’s also offers takeout and loves serving large groups.

House cook Carol Goley is just as dedicated as Balch and has been with him since the very beginning, working to perfect all of the original recipes.

Once a month, you can find the whole Ralphie & Lulu’s crew belting out their favorite karaoke tunes. There’s also dart boards and TVs to keep the crowd entertained.

It all makes Ralphie & Lulu’s a home away from home for Ashton and other nearby residents – those who’ve been around for years, and those who come back for a visit.

“It seems like whenever someone comes back to town after leaving, they stop in for dinner,” Balch said.

Seeing a nice mix of new and familiar faces is what makes the business so rewarding, said Balch, adding that he owes a lot to his regulars, many from Oregon, Rochelle, and surrounding towns, who eat there often.

Heather Ramirez is one of those regulars.

“The chicken is so yummy, the atmosphere is laid back and you feel right at home,” she said.

It’s a family-oriented atmosphere, and “children are always welcome,” Balch said.

In fact, the best part, Balch said, is when “people come in when they are children and then come back with their kids once they’re grown.”

Balch likes having families around, his own included: Two grandchildren work part-time at the restaurant, and a granddaughter waitresses when she comes home from college,

“Grandkids, my son, daughter, their spouses – the entire family helps out in some way or another,” he said.

Stop by Ralphie & Lulu’s to get a taste of that family vibe, and you’ll quickly become a part of the family yourself.

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