Photos by Katherine Bauer
ROCK ISLAND, Ill.– Nearly every inch of the little red building on 38th Street in Rock Island, Illinois, is covered with Halloween decorations. Visitors are greeted with a life-size mummy at the door, and Rocky the Gargoyle is perched atop the beverage fridge. In the next room, burgers sizzle and cooking utensils clank against the stove.
“I love to cook and I love to Halloween. So why not put them together?” Rick Lopez says.
Last year, Rick opened Igor’s Bistro, the only Halloween-themed restaurant in the Quad Cities. But he’s been holding onto this dream for decades.
“He’s wanted to own his own restaurant for many, many, many years,” his wife Kathy Lopez says.
He started out as a cook at an A&W restaurant, where he and Kathy met. Since A&W restaurants are only open during the summer, Rick spent the winter months cooking at various establishments to learn different tricks and techniques.
In the 1980s, he even ran his own restaurant as part of a franchise. However, slow business caused him to sell his franchise and go into construction.
For 25 years, Rick worked in construction, but Kathy says his desire to cook and make people happy never went away.
“After awhile, he got an itch to get back into it,” she says. “All the while, he’s been looking for a place.”
When it was time to retire, Rick decided to get back into the food business.
“It’s much easier to make people happy with food than it is trying to build them a building they wanted built yesterday,” he says.
Igor’s has been open for a year, but the decorations still invoke wonder, and the menu remains spooky.
“You see something new every time you’re in through here and looking at stuff,” says Jeff Gerard, a regular and long-time family friend.
Rick says he created his menu by looking at what was trending and what other chefs were making.
“We put a little bit of a Spanish twist to everything,” Rick says. “We use a lot of jalapenos, a lot of onions, tomatoes. So basically it’s American food with a Spanish influence.”
Diners can start with an order of Bat Wings (wings tossed in bad Juju sauce) or Vampire Bites (pretzel bites with cheese dip). The Goblin sports a brat burger topped with pepper jack cheese and jalapeno coleslaw on a Kaiser roll.
And the Ghost and Mr. Chicken, which is a nod to the 1966 spooky comedy of the same name, is one of the hottest dishes on the menu. A grilled chicken breast is doused with ghost pepper sauce, topped with provolone cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole, and lettuce, all on a Kaiser bun. Scared of a little heat? Opt for the Not So Ghostly Chicken, which ditches the ghost pepper sauce.
The names of the entrees aren’t the only spooky things going on at Igor’s.
Rick says mysterious occurrences began when they were renovating last year. He says he would put his tape measure down, go to grab what he was going to measure, and come back to see that the tape measurer had disappeared. A few minutes later, it would turn up again.
“I know I was old and senile, but come on man! It doesn’t happen 15 times,” he says.
People started hearing steps on the stairs when nobody else was around.
“Then I started yelling at the ghost. I figured it was a little kid,” Rick says.
The Illinois Paranormal Research Group stopped by to check it out. The researchers said there were five ghosts: one upstairs, one near the hostess/waitress station, two in the dining room, and one in the basement.
“I was kind of upset that I didn’t really experience it first-hand,” Kathy says. “I heard about it, and thought, ‘Okay cool!’”
Kathy says ketchup bottles have fallen off of shelves. Another time, a customer went to drink from their straw only to find it had disappeared. It was later found a few feet away on the floor, still wet from the drink.
“I was loving it!” Rick says. “I said, Halloween and ghosts? That’s it.”
With a little family of ghosts watching, Rick is finally able to cook and make people happy.
“This is his playground,” Kathy says. “It’s his dream, and so he gets to live out his dream.”