By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Travelers heading down the historic U.S. Route 66 in Missouri will soon get a taste and sight of Rockford.
Beefaroo, the fast-casual restaurant founded in Rockford in 1967, is set to open its ninth location and its first outside Illinois. The Beefaroo at 1411 West Kearney St. in Springfield, Missouri, is expected to open in January. Drivers who pull off the Route 66 interchange toward the restaurant will be greeted by the vibrant work of Rockford muralist Brett Whitacre.
“I really think it’s going to catch on if they’re given a chance across the country,” said Whitacre, who has painted multiple murals across the region. “If they bring that quality to any other city I think it’s going to be a big hit.”
“I’m just proud to be from here, proud to know that brand and get to see where it goes and how it does.”
Whitacre and Beefaroo have a long history of working together. His work can be seen at the Beefaroo at 3401 S. Alpine Road, 4061 Adamson Lane in Machesney Park, 6380 E. Riverside Blvd. in Loves Park and 5109 Rock Rose Court in Roscoe.
Now, he helped the company revamp a former Dairy Queen into the future home of a restaurant know for its slow-roasted beef sandwiches and signature cheese fries.
It won’t be the last mural he works on for Beefaroo. He’s also slated to help bring color to the new Rockford location along Highcrest Road in the former Sturtevant’s Menswear. That spot is slated to open Dec. 1.
Plus, Beefaroo is in the midst of its biggest expansion across the country to date. It’s also developing plans for restaurants in Manhattan and Overland in Kansas, Essexville, Mount Pleasant and Rose City in Michigan, and Lebanon, Indiana, and Cross Creek, Missouri.
“We just think we have a great product that needs to expand throughout the U.S.,” said Dawn Durkin, brand leader for Beefaroo. “Everyone who finds out we’re growing and expanding, I get so many emails and social media requests to have a Beefaroo built wherever they have moved away to.”
“So it’s bringing that Beefaroo around the U.S. to all the communities that need some great food.”
The company will keep its family-owned feel and the taste Rockfordians recognize as it expands, Matt Riddle, Beefaroo’s director of operations, said. He said Whitacre’s art will be a part of future expansion, too.
“He has such unique vision,” Riddle said. “The plan is certainly to continue to use him moving forward whenever the opportunity rises to add some wonderful artwork to a new project.”
The Springfield, Missouri, mural project included a large retaining wall. Whitacre said the total project consisted of 175 linear feet from front to back and an additional 120 feet across the back. Even by his standards painting large-scale murals on the sides of buildings, it’s his biggest project by square footage to date.
He said curious residents already approached him as he was working on the project.
“I know when new drive-thru places pop-up people will swing in and give it a shot,” he said, “and I think they’re going to be happy.”