The Secret Recipe: Family synonymous with Chicago puts trust in Mayo Clinic

In a Florida condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, three generations of the Berghoff and McClure family are gathered. Naturally, as they have been for so many years, the family is comfortably arranged around the table. 

It makes perfect sense. After all, any story about this family can be tied back to its history of quality food. Whether it’s a quick lesson on a cooking technique or a dinner invitation that’s impossible to decline, the fabric of the Berghoff family runs through diligence and love — as well as satisfying hunger. The Berghoff Restaurant in Chicago, first known as the Berghoff Café in 1898, is still family owned and relentlessly doted on.

As they sit and talk, Herman and Jan Berghoff are entertaining the group with anecdotes from their 60 years of marriage. More than once, Herman says, “One more story …” even before he finishes his current one. 

Herman and Jan’s daughter Carlyn Berghoff McClure is resplendent in a festive Berghoff restaurant apron as she discusses recent kitchen renovations with her husband, Jim McClure, that shows no step is wasted in a “perfect triangle” of food preparation and execution. Meanwhile, their daughter, Sarah McClure, flashes a teasing smirk that all parents have seen at one time or another.

It’s a comfortable and casual conversation that belies the hard work and commitment to values laid down by one generation of this family and followed by the next. And naturally, it lends itself to another constant in the family’s lives dating back more than 40 years — Mayo Clinic.  

Three generations of Berghoffs have found consistent, compassionate, values-driven care at Mayo Clinic. The family has also found a desire to advance Mayo Clinic’s mission and continue the tradition of hope and healing that started more than 150 years ago.

Most recently, Sarah’s personal commitment to support Mayo has led her to become the youngest known member of The Mayo Legacy, a recognition program for Mayo Clinic patients, staff and benefactors who have included Mayo Clinic in their estate plans or have made another type of future gift in support of advancing Mayo's humanitarian mission.

Sarah’s remarkable commitment speaks to the power of her experience with Mayo — a medical odyssey that had left her despondent before finally finding answers at Mayo Clinic. It’s almost hard to believe that she was once shy and in so much pain.

Fighting Against Food

Sarah’s medical journey started when she was 12. 

“I was sick. My hair was falling out, and I felt nauseous every time I would eat. My skin started losing its color. I was often up all night, lying next to the toilet. I lost about 10 pounds, and I was already a pretty tiny girl, only 4 foot something,” Sarah says. “I went to my mom hysterically crying, saying, ‘I think I have cancer!’ And that's when a lightbulb clicked for her that something was really wrong with me.” 

Sarah was diagnosed with celiac disease on her 13th birthday. Although she made diligent changes to her diet and followed her doctor’s orders, she didn’t feel better. 

The search for answers led to more and more diagnoses — small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and then fibromyalgia. Yet, through it all, Sarah’s care was fragmented and uncoordinated as she visited multiple health institutions in the family’s hometown of Chicago. No one could see the whole picture — the whole person who so desperately needed an answer.

“As we were going through Sarah's health challenges, at a certain point it became apparent that the biggest one of all was Sarah’s doctors not talking to each other,” Carlyn says. “She was home with a Ziploc bag of pills like my grandmother used to have when she came to visit us.” 

Carlyn knew where to turn, but it took some encouragement to get Sarah to agree. 

“I told her, ‘I support you, but I do not think you are getting the right care. We need to make a journey to Mayo Clinic and get all the doctors under one roof, talking to each other so you can be treated,’” Carlyn recalls. “When Sarah hit rock bottom, she agreed to it.”

Sarah admits she was hesitant at first.

“I kicked and screamed about going to Mayo. But it turned out it was the best thing that I ever did,” Sarah says. “Once I finally went to Mayo, everyone understood that everything I was feeling was real. Everything that the doctors said really hit home for me. And it's exactly what I needed in order to get better.”

Mayo Clinic’s team of experts who worked with Sarah through the years includes internists Chris A. Aakre, M.D.Jayanth Adusumalli, M.B.B.S., M.P.H., and Kevin C. Fleming, M.D.; cardiologist Robert L. Frye, M.D.; neurologist Mark A. Whealy, M.D.; gastroenterologists Amanda M. Johnson, M.D., and Andrew C. Storm, M.D.; podiatrist Martin G. Ellman, D.P.M.; dermatologist George F. Bonadurer, III, M.D.; pain medicine specialist Frederick O. Ojukwu, M.D.; nurse practitioner Gayle Fosterling-Pearson, APRN, C.N.P.; and physician assistant Katherine L. Edwards, P.A.-C., among many others.

Sarah's Crew

Now, Sarah’s life is completely different. She’s studying to become a certified veterinary technician and works at Dr. Nina’s Animal Hospital in Sarasota, Florida. She also trains dogs professionally and enjoys being a coxswain on the Sarasota Crew master’s rowing team, a sport she picked up in chilly winters in Chicago that’s translated well in Florida, where she moved as her next major “life decision.” 

“The coxswain is responsible for steering and directing the rhythm of the rowers. That's my jam, and it's what kept me alive,” Sarah says. “Rowing helped me get out of my shell and stand up for myself. Being a coxswain allows me to be as loud as I want to be.” 

Sarah also vocalizes her support of Mayo Clinic, and she’s committed more than just her advocacy for Mayo Clinic. At 22, she became the youngest member of The Mayo Legacy.

“First of all, the doctors and people at Mayo Clinic are special in an amazing way, and there needs to be more research done, which has to be funded,” Sarah says. “I do not think I would be here today without Mayo Clinic.”

In the Business

Sarah’s grandfather, Herman, vouches for Mayo Clinic’s care too. His path started 45 years ago with a referral from a friend in Michigan, where he and his wife, Jan, lived. 

“It’s individuality and the service you get. It’s run for patients. They tell you that and you understand it,” Herman says. “Every person who comes in there is treated as their own case with an important situation. You just don’t get that elsewhere.”

A similar service-oriented approach gave the Berghoff family’s restaurant in Chicago its start and its precipitous rise in the city. That, and a free sandwich.

In 1898, Herman’s grandfather, also named Herman, offered Berghoff Dortmunder Beer, light and dark, at 5 cents a glass and 10 cents a stein with a free sandwich for the lunch crowd. 

“While the 1890s were very prosperous for Chicago, you ran into Prohibition, then you ran into the First World War, the Great Depression, and then the Second World War and everything after,” the younger Herman says. “It’s 122 years later, and you almost take the success for granted because you’ve been through everything you can think of.

“We just carried the great restaurant tradition on — me, Jan, my father and my uncle, C.A.”

Herman and Jan took over the restaurant in Jan. 1, 1986, by buying out other partners who had joined over the years. They stayed dedicated to the values and quality that had carried the restaurant through the decades, and they stayed committed to one another.

“Herman and I were very fortunate,” Jan says. “Really, it has a lot to do with Herman and his dedication, and we’ve been happily married for 60 years.”

Through the years, all of the Berghoffs have been involved with the family business. Daughter Carlyn was a caterer, hosting huge events all around Chicago before she ran the restaurant. She has also authored three cookbooks. 

Herman and Jan’s son Peter was Herman’s right-hand man for many years and built a brewery in the restaurant to bring it back to its roots. Another son, Tim, bartends, while their daughter Julie lives in Los Angeles, working as a set designer on an Emmy winning television program.

Herman and Jan Berghoff and Jim and Carlyn McClure are among family members who have also committed estate gifts to Mayo Clinic, putting their trust in the direction of the institution.

The Next Chapter

Following the success of Sarah’s care, her brother Todd McClure sought out Mayo Clinic to help with anxiety and depression, as well as substance abuse. Todd moved to Rochester, Minnesota, to live in the John E. Herman Home and Treatment Facility, a long-term residential treatment facility.

The home is named after one of Sylvan C. Herman’s sons and was made possible by the Sylvan C. Herman Foundation’s generous gift.

For Todd, the John E. Herman Home was just what he needed to get his life back on track.  

“It was really one of my last options. I was having a tough time,” Todd says. “I trusted the Mayo process and kept growing as a person and developed life skills.

“I’m active, eating better. I’m just, overall, a happier person. I’m able to control my anxiety and depression. I’ve used the skills they’ve taught me, plus the right medications, to help me succeed.”

Todd has even used the experience to learn how to cook, making noodles and sauces from scratch and plating the night’s meal at the John E. Herman Home in Minnesota with an artistic flair. Beyond his passion for food, he wants to pursue a career in computer science. 

“I don’t look back in the past or jump ahead to the future,” he says. “Staying in the present has allowed me to succeed.”

Todd’s father, Jim, says that Mayo Clinic means everything to his family.

“If there’s a real health issue, we go to Mayo Clinic,” Jim says. “That’s the bottom line.”

It’s that trust that ensures conversations at the Berghoff table that begin as stories about medical odysseys return to the support they’ve received time and again from Mayo Clinic. 

And as the sun disappears over the western waters of the Gulf, the laughter from the Berghoffs’ family table drifts late into the night. 

Editor's Note: All photography in this story occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States. For more information about protecting yourself from COVID-19, please visit the Mayo Clinic News Network.

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Stories of Hope
Stories of Hope
Stories of Hope