End of an Era for Anetsberger Brothers Building
Historic manufacturing plant, office facility awaits new chapter.
Yellow paint that once denoted parking spaces in the lot is fading. A small sign that reads “Do Not Park Here” is rusting.
That’s the scene at the Anetsberger Brothers building, which lies empty for the first time in its 60-plus year history. At its peak, the business at 180 Anets Drive in Northbrook employed more than 300 workers. But without its machinery and former workforce, the sprawling, 150,000-square-foot facility conveys a ghostly emptiness.
Why would you care?
Well, if you’ve ever savored a meal that included really great French fries, or perhaps some tasty onion rings, there’s a good chance they were prepared in one of the fryers the Anetsberger Brothers and their workers produced here.
The company, which manufactures food service products under the name “Anets,” began operations in Northbrook when it moved from Chicago in 1948.
“The business was sold in 2009,” said Chris Anetsberger, a third generation descendant of Frank Anetsberger, one of the company’s founders.
According to Anetsberger, the family still owns what is the first structure ever built on Anets Drive, which will soon be readied for sale. Manufacturing ceased there in December 2009, and most of its contents were auctioned off last spring.
Anetsberger hasn’t gone far. He recently started his own business, Factory Direct Worldwide. Its offices are a short drive from the former Anetsberger Brothers plant on Techny Road.
A lifelong Northbrook resident, Anetsberger grew up near the corner of Waukegan and Voltz roads. His father, Greg Anetsberger, was in the first graduating class of Glenbrook North.
Chris Anetsberger got his start in the family business mowing grass on the Anetsberger golf course, which was originally constructed for employees of the company but was made available to the public in the late 1960s.
The golf course sits on part of the 60-plus acres the elder Anetsbergers purchased for their business in the late 1940s.
In 2000, 60 acres were sold to the Northbrook Park District, according to Ann Ziolkowski, director of marketing for the district. That land does not include the company’s former offices and factory.
Over its lifetime, the Anetsberger Brothers building was expanded at least four times. One of those additions, which served as the company warehouse, was originally an airplane hangar that the Anetsbergers moved to their plant in the 1960s. A Quonset hut, which served the business’s shipping docks, is at the building’s southwest corner and is also thought to have been added in the 1960s.
Anetsberger Brothers was started in 1937, when the company introduced the world’s first thermostatically controlled counter fryer. Before that, cooks did their frying in little more than pots filled with oil atop stoves. The Anets Fryer was a time-saving, food-quality and safety revolution.
From fryers, under the Anets brand name, the company’s product line expanded to include griddles, broilers, pasta cookers, and rethermalizers (devices that cook or reheat packaged or prepared meats or sauces.)
Anetsberger Brothers workers also repaired beer bottling equipment when the company was brought in to service machines in breweries.
“The repairs [we did] were better than the original equipment,” Anetsberger said. The company also manufactured dough-making equipment for large-scale food manufacturers like Sara Lee.
After moving operations from Elston Avenue in Chicago to Northbrook, the company bused its workers to its new location.
“There was nothing here then,” Anetsberger said.
There was, however a set of train tracks, then operated by the Milwaukee Road railway, which still run past the building on their way to the Northbrook Metra station. In the 1960s, the railway delivered coal cars to a side track that was next to the company’s facility. The car’s contents were used to heat the factory in its early days.
After his death in 1963, the company placed a small statue memorializing co-founder Frank Anetsberger just outside the northeast corner of the building. Although it’s no longer in front of the building, the statue is in the hands of John A. Anetsberger, the last surviving second generation family member of the company’s founders
Meanwhile, the Anets brand name lives on in products marketed by companies in Concord, N.H., and Elgin.