Fried chicken lovers find romance at Rip’s Tavern

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There's romance at Rip's Tavern in Ladd, Illinois. After nearly 80 years in business, customers fall in love with the chicken and each other.

"We've been coming here for over 50 years," said customer Emmett Capes.

Love was in the cards for Emmett and Carol Capes. They had their first date at Rip's back in 1961.

"It's a connection," said Carol. "It's like a tradition."

And it's still the place for family reunions. They play some rummy hands before getting their fingers into the fried chicken.

"We're going to go there and have fun," Carol said. "We're going to be in a family atmosphere, and we're going to enjoy the great food," Carol said.

Gina Ramey took one look at the Capes family and smiled.

"I remember them, too," she said.

Gina is legend around Rip's.

"What can I get you?" she asks a trio of young customers.

A niece to Rip himself, Gina arrived from Italy and went to work in 1957.

"When I started, the chicken was fifty cents a plate," she recalled.

Gina never left. These days she holds court in the kitchen.

"This is the 'computer,'" she said.

It's actually a peg board that's key to the operation.

"The bottom row is what they're cooking right now," Gina continued. "And what I put in now will go in as soon as these come out."

The old school system seems to work just fine. But there seems to be a generation gap with the servers.

"I know the girls are using adding machines," she said. "I never used one, and I still don't. We do our math in our heads."

These chicken dinners are all about tradition at Rip's. From the family ownership to the families that come there each week, it's quite a connection.

On a busy evening, Rip's will serve more than a thousand chicken dinners. They cook more than two tons of fresh chicken each week. It's all about consistency.

"We try to have the same piece of chicken today as we had 50 years ago," said owner Bill Rounds. "That's important."

Third generation owners Bill and Dave Rounds run Rip's these days. You'll find Dave in the kitchen while Bill handles the dining room.

"We try to make it as casual and comfortable as possible," Bill said. "We want the food to be as good as possible."

"That's why we're popular, too," added Gina. "You can come with your family and not drop a lot of money, you know."

Whether dining in or carrying out, customers keep coming for miles. They don't mind standing in line and waiting for more than an hour sometimes.

Now, that's a lot of love. Just ask the Capes family.

"When we mention we want the best chicken we can get, we're going to have to go to Ladd and Rip's," Carol said.

These are chicken connoisseurs with a down-home passion for good food.

"Rip's chicken," the Capes family cheered. "Number one!"

There's romance blossoming with every fried platter.

Rip's Tavern is open Wednesday through Sunday. It's located at 311 North Main Avenue in Ladd, Illinois. That's in Bureau County, just off Interstate 80. Call ahead at (815) 894-3051.