The former Der Rathskeller, 1132 Auburn St., has been sold to a Machesney Park couple that plans to lease the space to a future restaurateur. The property sold for $255,600 on March 21, 2024, according to records from the Winnebago County Clerk & Recorder. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
    By Helen Karakoudas
    Special to the Rock River Current
    Get our mobile app

    ROCKFORD — The building which housed the iconic Der Rathskeller restaurant on the city’s North End has been sold to a local family that plans to lease the space for a new restaurant.

    Public records show Barbara and Claudio Pennacchi, a Machesney Park couple, have purchased the property at 1132 Auburn St. in Rockford for $255,600. Vacant for over three years after an extensive renovation and a brief reopening, the two-level building and its popular beergarden patio had previously neared a sale but, until last week, hadn’t gotten to a closing.

    More restaurants: Mother-daughter team to open Crave in former Camera Craft space on Perryville Road

    Barbara Pennacchi told the Rock River Current that she and her husband are working on a lease agreement with an operator for the new restaurant. Until that agreement is finalized, they’re not discussing any details. She only confirmed that the cuisine would be a new ethnicity.

    “We are well aware of the rich history this property has and that many people have great memories of what it used to be, Barbara Pennacchi said in a phone interview Monday. It will be a fresh asset for the North End and for all of Rockford as well.

    Der Rathskeller, a beloved German restaurant that was one of Rockford’s oldest eateries, had been in business for 88 years: from 1931 to 2019. For four of those decades, it was owned by Betty Giesen, a local schoolteacher and principal.

    During that era, Der Rathskeller’s atmosphere and specialized cuisine grew the restaurant’s popularity. Ghost stories circulated about its late founder Fred Goetz, a Wisconsin native of German descent who had opened it as a sausage shop and delicatessen, coming back now and then to mind the basement. A radio jingle with polka music and a chorus of “yah, yah, yahsung in a heavy German accent is a core memory for lifelong locals.

    An outdoor beer garden, which Giesen had added in 2009, added to the appeal. Upon Giesen’s retirement in 2016, her son, Mike DuPre, bought the restaurant and ran it for three years. When DuPre announced the closing in 2019, a neighborhood resident quoted in the Rockford Register Star said this was like a family member moving out of town.

    New ownership took over in the spring of 2020, beginning an extensive renovation during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Keeping part of the name and changing the menu, the restaurant was reopened in October 2020 as Rathskeller Rockford. It closed a year and 13 days later, with a Facebook post noting the uphill battle of launching a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic.

    The property went on the market in October 2021.

    More business: New Yemeni gourmet coffee shop to open off Perryville Road in Rockford

    We had a number of individuals interested in taking over the old Rathskeller location, but for various reasons each fell through,” said 3rd Ward Alderman Chad Tuneberg.

    One of the people interested was Thaddeus Denthriff II, an award-winning pitmaster who owns Little Nick’s BBQ, a food truck and catering business that at one time had a storefront farther west on Auburn Street. Under Winnebago County’s revolving loan fund, Little Nick’s was approved for a $50,000 loan contingent on purchase of the property. When the sale fell through, the loan was not awarded. Denthriff now works in the kitchen at Wired Cafe in downtown Rockford and still operates catering for Little Nick’s.

    Not a week goes by that I don’t get asked by someone if I’ve heard anything about the Rathskeller location. A lot of eyes are on the North End and people are excited about its resurgence,” Tuneberg said, referring to transformations of storefronts on the 1400 block of North Main Street into such destinations as The Norwegian brunchpub, Rooted vintage furniture and gift boutique, West Side Show Room community theater, and The GOAT Pub and Grill.

    The nearby neighborhoods will be thrilled to hear a deal is closed and awaiting more details of what’s to come, Tuneberg said.

    Where exactly is this?

    1132 Auburn St., Rockford

    Near the southeast quadrant of the Main and Auburn roundabout, across the city parking lot from where you find North End City Market on Saturday mornings in the spring and summer

    Just south of Greenwood Cemetery

    Rockford Rathskeller, 1132 Auburn St., closed in October 2021. On March 21, 2024, the property was sold by Heavy Duty Products to Che Capolavoro LLC. The couple behind the purchase plans to lease it to a future restaurateur. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

    This article is by freelance journalist Helen Karakoudas. Email feedback to

    Tags: , , , , , ,