Piping hot fried chicken. Ice cold beer.
On the surface, those are the legacies left behind by “Fast Eddie” Sholar. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you will see his mark left on our city runs much deeper.
Edward “Eddie” Sholar Sr., the mastermind behind two iconic Alton destinations, died July 22, leaving behind two successful family businesses as well as fond memories by friends and associates who worked with him or for him, stood side-by-side with him at city events, or shared a drink or two with him while discussing sports or local politics.
Eddie opened Fast Eddie’s Fried Chicken in 1973, when he was only 19. After spending a couple of years on the corner of Royal and Central, the restaurant moved into the former site of Block’s at 701 Central Ave., and business boomed.
In 1981, he opened Fast Eddie’s Bon-Air on East Fourth Street, buying the existing Bon-Air from father-and-son owners Sam and Lotteo Balaco, while his parents, Dexter and Norma, took over the chicken restaurant (his sister, Kathy Sholar-Brunaugh, bought the restaurant in 1988). Focusing on the Bon-Air, Eddie spent the next couple of decades creating a household name … not just in Alton, but all across the country.
Before long, a brilliant marketing strategy created rumblings across the river of “the place in Alton with the cheap food and the ice-cold beer.” Although it had been in operation for decades (Anheuser-Busch actually opened the bar in the 1920s), the foundation of fame really grew upon the “Fast Eddie” name. Today, it is one of the largest bars for hundreds of miles, helped along by extensive renovations on the famous patio.
Eddie Sr. later sold the business to his son, Eddie Jr., although friends say his “retirement” was anything but, as the entrepreneur remained active and sociable, even through illness.
One friend recounts that when he opened his own bar, Eddie made it a regular hangout for himself and his buddies, helping the new business to become established. Eddie realized that a thriving business in Alton, even one in the same industry, could only mean good things for not only his own establishment but the city at large.
Eddie was 61 when he unexpectedly passed away that warm Wednesday morning of an apparent suicide, leaving behind a note for family members. Although the man has been laid to rest, his mark on Alton will live on. The outpouring of love and compassion for Eddie’s family on social media from all over the country is testament to the savvy, business-minded dreamer who created a large footprint in the history of our city.
I know the next time I bite into a piece of fried chicken at his old restaurant, or wash down a peel-and-eat shrimp with a cold drink at his old bar, I’ll be reminded that Eddie Sholar made Alton a better place.
A tastier place, true, but also a better place all around.