Dining Guide:

Fired Up About Historic Setting, Good Food at Fifth Alarm

Restaurant Profile: Meet a family whose Byron, Ill. restaurant reflects a passion that spans through four generations.

Owners Kitty Moring and Randy Hogan, with staff members Kristina Murray and Chris Doss. At right is Randy’s brother, Jeff. (Dustin Waller photo)

For most of the past decade, the old municipal building in Byron, Ill., has been a labor of love for the Hogan family. It’s not just because their restaurant is set in an old firehouse, or because the family has a long history of firefighters. Everything about the Fifth Alarm Firehouse & Pub, 120 N. Union St., is personal for husband-and-wife owners Randy Hogan and Kitty Moring.
“Randy always wanted to own a bar and I’ve always toyed with having a restaurant, so it was a natural,” says Moring.
The 1922 building is the perfect tribute to their family. Randy and his brother, Jeff, are the third of their family’s four generations to join the fire department. Their father was an assistant chief in Byron, and Moring’s grandfather was a fire chief in nearby Oregon, Ill. Moring and Hogan’s son, Trevor, is a firefighter and paramedic in Rockford.
Reminders of the family legacy are everywhere. One wall displays a mural of the brothers in full equipment. Near the entrance hangs the ultimate reminder: an old photograph of the Hogans’ grandfather, manning Byron’s fire engine in the 1920s.
“Our grandfather used to work here,” says Jeff. “The truck you see in that photograph was sitting right here. That’s cool.”
Even without the family connection, it’s a pretty cool place. Fire memorabilia hangs all over the pub and adjoining restaurant. On the walls are jackets and helmets that appear to have survived a tough career.
All around the bar hang various patches and fire helmet insignia, from Byron, Oregon and Dixon, Ill., as well as Boston and New York City. All were donated by visitors, many of whom were firefighters.
“A fireman walks in here from somewhere, and sees those helmet fronts on the wall and he starts thinking, ‘We need to have our front up there, too,’” says Randy, a retired fire captain. “So next time he visits, he’ll come up with one or bring in an old one from work.”
Along with unique ambiance, visitors find a familiar menu. The pub-style sandwiches and wraps take their names from firehouse jargon, like the Backdraft Burger, the Smokehouse Bacon Cheeseburger and the Fire Company Club. The menu is constantly changing, says Moring, and now includes steak and seafood, a big change from the start, when food was more of an afterthought.
“We started interviewing for the kitchen, and we didn’t have any idea what we were looking for,” says Moring. “At the time, there wasn’t anything else like this out here. We interviewed a guy who was an unemployed chef, and at first we hesitated, but he was very good, and had very good ideas.”
During the first six months of its new adventure, the family spent every day and night transforming the old city hall into a new restaurant. That meant tearing out a brick wall and layers of ceilings and floors. An equipment garage was transformed into a kitchen.
But the red garage doors, original wood floors and an old fire hydrant that’s been anchored into the bar, remind visitors of the history of this place.
Fifth Alarm strikes a chord with firefighters and non-firefighters alike. Behind the dining room is a private gathering space that pays tribute to fallen heroes. It’s a place where firefighters and their families are always welcome, and where they find good company in the Hogans’ legacy.
“When members of the brotherhood come in here, we give them a card that gives them one free drink,” says Moring. “They usually come in and flip out their badge, or say they’re retired. We make it a big deal. If you’re a fireman in here, it’s a really big deal.”