Kenootz owners will open new bar and grill and deepen the roots of the oak forest

OAK FOREST, IL – Their pizza has been a presence in Oak Forest and the surrounding communities for nearly four years, and now the Oak Forest couple behind the Kenootz name are ready for a new — and additional — adventure.

Ken and Dee Keeler, who first opened Kenootz in Oak Forest before moving the business to Midlothian, are putting the finishing touches on their next business move, a bar and grill set to open at a Cicero Avenue location. Cooper’s Bar and Grill—named for the nickname once given to Oak Forest residents—will open at 15158 S. Cicero Ave in late February.

Keeler and his wife bought the 70-year-old building in 2021, then stripped it down to the rivets and started over.

“It was a bigger task than I thought it would be!” said Keeler Patch, laughing. “It’s a 1960s building and we’ve transformed it into the 21st century.”

Ken and Dee Keeler have the space at 15158 S. Cicero Ave. reduced to nothing before starting over. Courtesy of Ken Keeler.

Oak Forest residents were eager to take their business acumen back to where it all began. Kenootz Pizza first opened on November 3, 1988 in a space on Cicero Avenue. It then moved to its current home, 4659 147th St., in Midlothian, but the Keelers maintained their connection with Oak Forest. He opened other locations in Hickory Hills and Homer Glen, but the one in Midlothian remained a cornerstone throughout. Her pizza is a staple at Oak Forest and Bremen high schools and city events — her name is also known for scholarships and other community contributions. They have been active and involved in local communities for decades, Keeler said.

However, Cooper’s will be an easy change for the couple. You envisioned a sit-down restaurant with a nice, long bar—29 feet long, to be precise, with seating for 40 to 50 people—serving sandwiches and appetizers. Gaming will also be available. They’ll even bring Keootz pizza, although it’s not made on site, Keeler said.

The building also includes two retail spaces that will be available in addition to the bar and grill.

Ken Keeler behind the new bar at Cooper’s Bar and Grill, 15158 S. Cicero Ave. Courtesy of Ken Keeler.

Keeler has had offers from several other cities, he said, but his heart beats for Oak Forest.

“We had different offers everywhere, we chose Oak Forest,” he said. “Oak Forest is where I wanted to go… We had Midlothian, Poznan, Crestwood, I still stayed in Oak Forest.”

The couple’s loyalty to the city runs deep, he said, even recalling Mayor Hank Kuspa serving as best man at their wedding before later becoming mayor.

“We’ve been an integral part of the community and schools for a long time,” Keeler said of her time in Oak Forest. “Many local people have been employed by Keootz over the years and now many of their children are following in their footsteps.”

City officials have worked with the couple to find a way to make this special dream a reality.

“Oak Forest City Council have been working with us for quite some time trying to bring us back to Oak Forest,” Keeler said in an email to Patch, “and they are very excited to open this new store just off the Cicero Avenue.”

Don’t worry, he said, Kenootz Pizza in Midlothian isn’t going anywhere. It will keep going. Cooper’s offers the opportunity to try something new to cap off decades of business success.

“I want to finish my career in Oak Forest,” Keeler said. “Where I started, I will finish.”

Keeler is hiring for Cooper’s Bar and Grill. All interested are encouraged to call Kenootz Pizza for more information.

Ken and Dee Keeler. Courtesy of Ken Keeler.