Debbie Becker wasn’t sure what to do next after Louie’s Kampsville Inn on the Illinois River closed and her time there came to an end. “I worked for Louie since I started in 1989. I took a hiatus and delivered mail for 10 years. [Then] I managed the inn for its last four or five years. When he passed away, I kept telling my husband, ‘I don’t know what I’m going do.’ He was a wonderful boss,” she says. The answer would come in the wake of a flood.
Sometime prior, her husband Mark had offered to purchase Kampsville’s former American Legion building just as it was about to be razed. Later, when the river once again threatened to breach its borders, he suggested she park her car in the pavilion they’d created from the structure. The next day when she came back to pick it up, she noticed she had an even better view than her former employer.
“We’d bought this three or four years before that. [Mark] finally one day asked me if I wanted to do this.” Debbie admits she was a little reluctant at first, but later jumped on board. The couple, aware that flooding would continue to be an issue, got creative.
By making their kitchen and product mobile (both are housed in trailers), when weather threatens, they simply relocate the trailers to higher ground, leaving only tables and a few refrigerators to contend with. And because it’s an open-air structure, mold hasn’t been an issue following the two floods they’ve experienced since opening the establishment in 2019.
Another thing she’s learned along the way: Don’t leave packets of sweetener on the tables overnight. “The floor was just covered. I busted out laughing because [wildlife] went to every single table. Now we take everything off the tables at night.”
The dining area is decorated with fun light fixtures and signs like “Fisherman, hunters and other liars gather here,” and “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” Seating includes a bar with 10 stools, several picnic tables under the pavilion and umbrella tables adjacent with a view of the Illinois River and the Kampsville Ferry. The restaurant, surprisingly cool on a hot day, is equipped with fans and heaters and a full bar.
The Beckers also own the nearby campground, affectionately named Becker’s Bottoms by her former co-worker. “We have the same campers all year, which is really a good choice, because I don’t have to deal with a lot of the paperwork that you have [with campers staying] by the night.”
Campers, locals and out-of-towners, many from Springfield, St. Louis and St. Charles, find some of the former inn’s popular menu items are still offered at the aptly named Pavillion, including catfish fritters. Debbie says the pork tenderloin, burgers and hand-breaded onion rings and dill pickles are also favorites. “I usually go through a 5-gallon bucket of dill pickles. They don’t last a week,” she says. She adds that in a typical week, they generally serve about 300-plus guests.
“I can tell you this. I couldn’t do it without my workers. I have got the greatest group of people. Some of them have worked for me since I opened, even with us being seasonal,” Debbie says. “I always tell everybody, nobody has ‘a’ job. If you see something that needs to be done, go ahead and do it. And they do. They are so good about that.” She employs 10 to 12 staff; six are full-time, and some work weekends.
Along with her staff, Debbie loves that kids don’t just sit on their phones. “That is my absolute favorite thing about here. Kids will get our little bicycles and ride them around,” she says. “The kids are definitely my favorite part.”
There are a few special events every season. There will be a fireworks display for campers around July 4 each year, and the town has a summer celebration in August. “The town will sell baskets here to raise money. I like that we all try to work together,” Debbie says.
Another is Old Settlers Day in October. “I don’t necessarily see them because I’m in [the kitchen], but we usually have people lined up out the door,” she says. “I will have a band on Saturday night or a DJ during the day. We usually have something like that for the special things.”
Seasonal open-air dining at the Pavillion usually runs around April 15 through the end of October. “Sometimes I’ll stay open [longer] if the weather is decent. I’ll stay for another week, but by then I’m ready to be done for a little bit,” she says.
Even off season, Debbie loves the area. “In the winter, it is so neat. I like to watch the eagles. They will float by on the ice and fight over fish. I will stand at the door for hours and watch.”
She admits that she would someday like to retire, but for now, there are no plans to do so.
“I mean, I enjoy it. I honestly do, most of the time. But like I said, I’ve got a great group of people who make my life a lot easier than it could be,” Debbie says. “I tell people all the time, I know I’m lucky.”