is now Conn's Hospitality Group that includes
Court, Karen, Casey & Adam Conn

Roy Conn worked for years in his family restaurant in Palmyra. He put in some time in a few downtown Springfield restaurants after that until he was ready to start his own place. He settled on a space inside a tavern on East Monroe Street that he rented in 1948 to open Roy’s Café. Roy was a creative guy who was always looking for that niche that would draw customers into his café. He wanted folks - particularly downtown state workers - to have a new experience so he set up his meat cooking and slicing station in the window of his restaurant and it drew big crowds. It was something no one else was doing – a modern day food demonstration! Roy's business boomed so he acquired a second location just east on Monroe between 5th & 6th streets down a bit from the Senate movie theater. The Stratton Office Building had just opened near the state Capitol and he wanted to capture the lunch crowd. Both of these locations were hugely successful, and Roy began opening restaurants one after another. At one time, there were four restaurants operating simultaneously, two of which were open 24 hours a day.

Like many downtown Springfield businesses, Roy’s restaurants suffered through the late 70’s and early 80’s with the opening of White Oaks Mall on the west side. Roy closed his last downtown restaurant, a combination restaurant/bar/café on Monroe. With a great reputation for excellent food and service, Roy felt that catering was the avenue his family business should take for the future.

As Roy was beginning to slow down some, his son Court began to oversee most aspects of the Conn’s businesses during the late 70’s to early 80’s, eventually becoming primary owner of Conn's Catering in 1985. His wife, Karen, joined him in 1986 and later became a primary owner in 1996. The new partnership soon found a beautiful but neglected historic apartment building that they converted to a gorgeous bed and breakfast steps away from the Illinois State Capitol. They named this new venture the Inn at 835.

Built in 1909 by Bell Miller, a young successful florist for Springfield’s upper echelon, the apartments were home to many society figures in the area known as Aristocracy Hill. The apartments were fully renovated by Court and Karen with an exquisite detail to its historic story and former tenants. The Inn houses eleven beautiful guest rooms with the charm of a former era but with all the amenities of a 21st century hotel. Four poster beds, antiques mixed with modern glass showers, and Jacuzzis make each room unique and luxurious. The Inn at 835 is on the National Register of Historic Places as well as a designated Springfield Landmark by the City of Springfield.

Conn’s Catering was operating outside of the Inn’s property at an offsite facility, but event trends were changing. Increased competition and a greater demand for a facility that could host big and small on-site events led the Conns to add a multi-purpose reception area and bar with adjoining banquet kitchen. The “Conservatory” is a state of the art conference/event facility that can be configured to hold up to 300 wedding guests, a company retreat, a large cocktail reception, or a lunch meeting. The historic main Inn building also accommodates parties, receptions, and lunches, but this beautiful addition to the Inn property took the Conn Family into the next phase of their plan for their future generations of hospitality experts. The Conservatory project was recognized by the Springfield Historic Sites Commission and honored the Conns with the Preservationist of the Year award.

The next chapter of the Conn’s Hospitality Group story would take them back in time to discover family ancestry and hidden treasures from over 150 years ago. One block west of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site sat a 19th century house at the corner of 7th & Jackson originally owned by Obed Lewis. Research showed that the Lewis children often played with the neighboring Lincoln children. The Lewis home was passed on to each generation until the 1930’s when it became office space. The Lewis’ great-great grandson and his wife, Court & Karen Conn, purchased the Obed Lewis house in 2007. The Lewis house, however, proved to be a greater challenge than even the Conns could take on.

After extensive deliberation and analysis, the Conns demolished the old homestead and opted to save another structure from the wrecking ball. Close by, but still in the Aristocracy Hill neighborhood, the Springfield Clinic was rapidly expanding and acquiring many of the adjacent properties. Parking lots, historic homes and businesses, and one of those homes of particular historic value: the Lincoln-era Isaac Lindsey house. The Lindsey house, which was built with the help of Abraham Lincoln, was moved from its foundation six blocks north to be placed on the site of the former Obed Lewis house across from the Lincoln Home and just east of the Booth-Grunendike Mansion.

The Lindsey House now proudly sits on the lot of the former Lewis property along with the Lewis carriage house that was built in the late 19th century. With the house in place, the Conns began to plan their next venture. Court and his sons, Casey and Adam, had been home brewers for a few years and anxiously wanted to take their knowledge one step further. The initial plan was to convert the newly planted Lindsey/ Lewis house into a microbrewery but the property was deemed too small to realize this vision.

On the same block of Jackson between 6th and 7th Street sat the aforementioned Booth-Grunendike Mansion. Court and Karen opted to acquire the Booth-Grunendike property and save the Lindsey house for a later phase of the Conn's Jackson Street project. This historic property built around 1870 was the family residence of Amasa Booth who owned a successful wagon and carriage business that he inherited from his father. Amasa purchased the home in 1881, and Booth's daughter, Mary Grunendike, lived in the house until her death in 1965 at the age of 102. The Grunendike Mansion had served as office space for many years but had recently been neglected and needed attention.

The Conn family worked with architects, contractors, and city officials for many months starting in September 2011 to renovate the mansion and adjoining carriage house into the brewery. Their goal was a February 12, 2012 opening of Obed and Isaac's Microbrewery and eatery. This date was significant because it was Abe Lincoln’s birthday. And yew… they made it! The microbrewery has since exceeded all expectations. Casey Conn manages the restaurant microbrewery with brother, Adam, serving as brew master.

The menu for Obed and Isaac's was developed through thoughtful research by all members of the family through travel around the United States. Some old family recipes grace the menu like Papa Conn's famous chili. No element or detail was instituted without much contemplation. The family’s philosophy toward all of their businesses begins with attention to detail and excellence in service.

Court and Karen have since further developed the property. It now includes an outdoor space with seating, a bar, and bocce ball courts. The family’s love for dogs led to the addition of a dog run called the K9 Social Club where dogs can hang out and play while their owners dine and drink. Also new and open for business on this property: Wm. Van’s Coffee, a coffee house inside the Lindsey house.

When deciding what kind of business would work well in the Lindsey house, the locals and our regulars at Obed & Isaac's were gathered for their input. The resounding idea: the area could use a good coffee house that would not only serve great coffee, but in a comfortable environment. Wm. Van's Coffee House was born from this idea. Using reclaimed materials for decor, including wood from a dismantled barn from the Conn family farm, it has turned out to be a cozy place to chat with friends over a great cup of coffee and a pastry, or to sit quietly with the paper and a made-to-order sandwich or grab-and-go salad

As Wm. Van's was set to open in early 2014, the Conns were quietly acquiring a wonderful local shop, Widow at Windsor Antiques, and moved the business to her new home at the northwest intersection of 7th and Monroe Streets. This new endeavor fit in seamlessly with the Conn's other downtown properties. The restaurant, coffee shop, and inn are all extensions of the Conn's love of providing hospitality.  

In January 2016, Widow at Windsor became Merchant House- although technically a new concept, it was no departure from the one-of-a-kind artifacts that the Widow's customers had grown to love over the years. In addition to retaining the antique European and Asian statement pieces, Merchant House offers contemporary items such as leather seating, home decor, artwork, and local handmade jewelry.

The next chapter of the Conn's legacy takes you to Peoria, Illinois, at the site of the iconic and beloved Cornerstone Building. The 1889 church building, designed by the same architect who engineered the famed Chicago Water Tower, rebuilt the Wisconsin state capitol, and completed the Illinois state capitol, was left idle in its prime downtown location for several years. The moment that Karen and Court set eyes on the property, their interest was piqued. After lengthy discussion and assessment, the decision to expand the Obed & Isaac's brand and quality food and drinks into another city was made. Through careful preservation of the existing historic building, as well as strategic additions to the fallow areas of the property, Obed & Isaac's Peoria opened it's doors September 26, 2016. In addition to the historic church hosting the main dining area, the property includes a state-of-the-art brewhouse, outdoor patio, and bocce ball garden.

In June of 2018 the Conn's purchased 30 acres of the Old Gillett Farm in Elkhart, Illinois. The 1868 home, 7 barns, water tower and caretaker house has been transformed into a working orchard, vineyard, apiary, event barn and in the legacy of the Conn Family.

Let's not stop the fun at the farm. In July 2020 during the COVID_19 pandemic the Conn's decided to take on a new adventure in Smoked Meat. Li'L Willy's BBQ came to life on the corner of South Grand and MacArthur in Springfield. This former filling station is now a bright spot on the iconic corner in town. 

Serving delicious smoked meat in the afternoon and evenings, this quick service BBQ Joint is becoming a favorite in the neighborhood. All Meat is smoked on site daily and offers a wide range of traditional sides. 

Fast forward to the Summer of 2021 and the Conn Family had enough of seeing block of Springfield history sitting empty. They quietly purchased the Vinegar Hill Mall Complex in September of 2021 and immediately began bringing it back to life.  

The DeWitt Wickliffe Smith Mansion sits on the corner of 2nd and Cook Street. Just one block from the State Capital. Built in 1865, this house was home to the Wickliffe-Smith family. After his death in 1929 this mansion has been home to offices and other entities and is now home to the Conn's Hospitality Group corporate offices. 

What was the carriage house for the Dewitt Wickliffe Smith Mansion in the 1800s it was later converted into the popular Baur's Steakhouse. 

It has been many different restaurants through the years, and renovations have started to bring this building back to its former glory. 

Vinegar Hill Mall was originally built in 1905 for Edward & Chapman's Laundry. The 26,500-square-foot facility made Edwards & Chapman Illinois’ largest laundry on a single floor outside Chicago.

The plant was leased in 1952 to F.W. Means Towel & Uniform. In 1981, the old laundry building was converted to the Vinegar Hill Mall.

Vinegar Hill Mall was one of Springfield's most popular locations for dining and shopping from 1985 through the early 2000s. 

The Mall sat vacant since 2016 until the recent purchase in September of 2021. 

Vinegar Hill Mall is unique in that is offers many different business opportunities in a historic setting in a block away from our State Capital.

With the Conn Family's recent purchase of this property, clean up has begun on the exterior of the building and work to revitalize this treasured space is underway.

Follow us on our journey to preserve more properties as we CONN-tinue on!