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Restaurateur recalled for love of youngsters, business

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
February 26, 2008
— It’s a favorite family story.

When Chuck Roherty owned Roherty’s Dairy Bar near Five Points in downtown Janesville many years ago, an inspector told Chuck that the grill’s one bathroom allowed for 12 counter stools—not the 13 that were there.


“He took the top off the stool and gave it to the guy,” Chuck’s wife, Carol, recalled Monday.


“Now we have 12,” he told the inspector.


Chuck Roherty, 80, a well-known Janesville restaurateur, died Saturday.


His son John said his dad will be remembered for his love of and belief in young people.


Indeed, Chuck and Carol, who ran the former Mr. Steak together beginning in 1968, received many letters from some of the hundreds of young people they hired and trained.


Kaye Saltzman Gilbertson of Barneveld sent the couple a letter last summer.


She was a waitress at Mr. Steak more than 30 years ago—“back in the days of the red uniforms and white collars and white little hats.”


“I had the two of you as my very first employers,” she wrote. “I’ve learned so much from you about integrity, hard work and doing things the right way.”


Chuck and Carol met at a St. Mary’s dance when Chuck returned home in 1947 after serving in the Navy. She was 16 years old. He was her “big Navy hero.”


“We just knew right away,” she said.


Carol cared for the couple’s four children while Chuck ran the dairy bar, which his grandparents opened in 1903 as a grocery store. He added the stools and grill.


The bar was known for serving five burgers for $1 and the best malts in town.


In 1968, the couple opened Mr. Steak on Milton Avenue. John and his wife, Barb, bought the business and opened Roherty’s Restaurant in 1989, selling it in 2004.


Carol worked with her husband at Mr. Steak, noting that not too many married people can work together for 30 years.


“All the employees called him the velvet hammer,” she said. “They knew that he expected the best, and, if they didn’t do it, they knew he’d come down on them.”


Ed Lump of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association has known Chuck—who served for a time as board president—for more than 30 years. The couple were named Restaurateurs of the Year in 1986.


“The restaurant business certainly ran deep in his blood,” Lump said. “He had quite an impact in Janesville and obviously on the state level.”


Chuck had a big presence that dominated a room, Lump said.


“Chuck was a very big-hearted person. He was also a very common-sense kind of person. He would always tell you what he thought. Very directly.


“I think a lot of people came into the (restaurant) to see Chuck and Carol,” Lump said. “They both had an ability to pick people up when they were down. They were fun to be around.”


Said John: “He (Dad) loved the restaurant business. He loved the people.”


Over the years, Chuck also coached youth baseball and was the first president of the Craig High School athletic booster club. He also was president of the chamber of commerce and a longtime hospital volunteer.


Visitation is from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Schneider Apfel Schneider & Schneider Funeral Home. A burial Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday in St. Mary’s Catholic Church.



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