Casey, Ill., is a small town with big things. Home to the World’s Largest Mailbox, rocking chair, wind chime and more, the town is a prime tourist attraction on I-70. It is also where visitors can find Richards Farm Restaurant, located next to the World’s Largest Pitchfork.
The Richards’ family home was like any other farm in the area during the 1900s. Gary and Diane Richards married in 1972 and bought the house where Gary grew up. In 1976, the couple decided to use the 1930s barn on the property to build a business. Although he had no restaurant experience, the bank granted Gary a loan, and Richards Farm Restaurant was born.
“That was the early to mid-’70s. A local banker was crazy enough to loan him some money,” says Gary’s son, Mike. “Probably wouldn’t do that today, [loaning money to] a 25-year-old guy who had zero restaurant experience.”
It took a little remodeling to get the working barn restaurant-ready. The couple’s vision was to keep the rustic farm look. Local farmers agreed to let Gary tear down their old barns and keep the wood. “He tore down seven barns to get wood to put together the interior so that it actually looked like old barn wood,” Mike says.
The dining area is broken up into various rooms decorated with antiques, each with creative names like the Corn Crib, the Back Forty and the Haymow. Another, the Willow Room, is a banquet area that seats up to 300 people.
Mike grew up working in the family restaurant and took over managing it after Gary’s passing. He also manages two other restaurants in Indiana, alongside his wife Jamie.
“I grew up in the business. I worked out here through high school and college. I swore I would never be in the restaurant business,” he says. In addition to Mike and his wife, their son, nieces and nephews work for the restaurant. “We’re hoping the next generation will continue it.”
In the last 50 years, Richards Farm Restaurant has become a staple in Casey. “We have strong local support, but especially over the last five, six years, the big things in Casey have brought a lot of people, and we’re so thankful for that,” Mike says.
In addition to the 1-pound pork chop the restaurant is known for, locals and tourists alike enjoy its steak, pasta, burgers, seafood and more. Monday through Saturday during lunch, patrons can enjoy the soup, salad and bread bar and a hot bar, which includes two entrees and two hot sides that vary daily. On Sundays, there is a special buffet from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and lunch plate specials are available daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Richards say their beef is a cut above, which they attribute to marbling (for flavor) and aging (for tenderness). All entrees come with two sides or the soup, salad and bread bar. Most items on the salad bar are made in-house daily, including the bread, which can be spread with strawberry jam, whipped butter or sweet butter. Sides include basics like French fries and mashed potatoes, as well as (but not limited to) sweet potato fries, mac and cheese and farm salad. Bread pudding, a chocolate cake sundae, fruit cobbler, pecan pie and peanut butter pie are all options for dessert.
Mike says the menu has remained consistent in the nearly 50 years the restaurant has been open. “We have a dish called Town House Chicken, which has been a mainstay since at least the ’80s. The fried catfish and barbecue pork loin have been on the menu basically forever,” he says. “We’re thankful to be approaching 50 years because most restaurants don’t last this long. [We’re] thankful to all the people who come and enjoy eating here. We’re always striving to give everybody a great experience. … It’s nice, because a town this size, a lot of times they just fade away, and there’s no reason to go there. It’s a good time to be living here. I hope people keep growing it and keep appreciating it.”