The “Pride of Oregon” and one of the Rock River’s most popular dining attractions is forging ahead, as its new owners continue to improve this local landmark.
Frank and Nancy Semmerling never had any desire to own a restaurant. Frank was semi-retired after he sold his business, Semmerling Fence & Supply Inc., in Wheeling, and Nancy enjoyed being a homemaker.
That all changed, however, two years ago, when Nancy’s sister, Shirley, a Rochelle resident, invited the couple to dine at Maxson Restaurant & Riverboat in Oregon. They enjoyed a dinner cruise on the Pride of Oregon, the restaurant’s paddle wheel riverboat, and became hooked. “It was a great ride with a beautiful view,” says Nancy. “We found out it was for sale and, a few months later, we bought it.”
Maxson, 1469 Illinois 2, first opened as a restaurant in 1952. The riverboat wasn’t launched until the late 1980s, and has since become Oregon’s largest attraction. Richard Wiesner bought the business in 1993 and seven months later, a fire destroyed the building. Wiesner invested $750,000 to build a new 6,000 square-foot building, and owned the business until 2013. Now retired, Wiesner and his son, Richie, serve as captains of the Pride of Oregon.
The Semmerlings, who live in Riverwoods, a Chicago suburb, finalized the deal to take over operations in 2014. The day-to-day operations are handled by their son-in-law Daniel Wiegman, and daughter, Christina, who are both chefs and live in Byron. “This was an opportunity for our entire family,” says Frank. “It couldn’t have worked out better.”
The glass-enclosed restaurant features tiered seating, giving customers a panoramic view of the Rock River. “We see turkeys, pelicans, deer and eagles,” says Nancy. In addition to the main dining room, the restaurant has private dining rooms upstairs for meetings and other special events. A spacious outdoor deck is perfect for dining during the summer months. Guests are treated to musical entertainment on weekends.
The main attraction is the Pride of Oregon, which the owners describe as “102 feet of real river charm.” The riverboat holds 149 passengers and is fully climate controlled. The Pride of Oregon is popular for wedding ceremonies, reunions and lunch and dinner cruises. Lunch tours are $30 for adults, $28 for seniors and $20 for children 6-12; five and under free. Dinner is $35 for adults, $33 for seniors and $20 for children. Sightseeing tours are available starting at $15. Excursions are available 11 a.m. 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday by reservation.
The Semmerlings and family have tweaked the menu since taking ownership. Popular dishes include the Captain burger/cheeseburger, a seasoned beef grilled to perfection and served on wheat or original Kaiser Roll. There’s a 1st Mate chicken sandwich, a boneless chicken breast grilled and topped with cheddar cheese. The blackened butt steak is seared in a cast iron skillet coated with house made spice blend and served with sautéed garlic mushrooms and au jus. The lemon pepper salmon is served over fingerling potatoes and the chop sirloin steak is topped with a mushroom demi-glace sauce. But not everything has changed. “We kept the orange rolls on the menu,” says Nancy. “They’ve been popular with customers since Maxson first opened.”
Maxson has a Friday night fish fry, a Saturday night Texas barbecue and a Sunday brunch. It’s open on all major holidays.
Over the years, Maxson has hosted weddings, retirement parties and family reunions in the restaurant, the outdoor deck and on the riverboat. The Semmerlings are hoping to expand this part of the business. The restaurant also draws business to the Paddle Wheel Inn, a 39-room hotel located next door.
“We want to build something special here,” says Frank. “I’ve built businesses my whole life, but the restaurant business is a new challenge. We’re excited about the possibilities.”
Maxson is open Tues.-Sat. from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m.