Made In Chicago: America’s Dog & Burger
July 31, 2017
“The pictures that line the walls are from road trips my family has taken over the years — road trips that really started this concept,” said Manolis Alpogianis, owner of America’s Dog & Burger.
For Manolis and his brother George, the restaurant business is in their blood.
“We were born into it,” George said. “My grandfather on my mother’s side — Manolis, my brother’s namesake — had one of the most famous Greek nightclubs called the Grecian Gardens in Greek town. That was really his claim to fame on his side.”
Another grandfather owned the Palace Grill on Madison and Loomis and then Kappy’s in Morton Grove.
“I started working there when I was 9-years-old, helping out my dad at Kappy’s. Kappy’s was a big lunch and dinner spot, super popular. I started busing tables and scooping ice cream. I did that until I was about 18-years-old,” said Manolis, who went on to work for Lettuce Entertain You and California Pizza Kitchen.
Fast-forward about 20 years, and the brothers took a road trip to come up with their own restaurant concept: a hot dog stand that featured the Chicago style hot dog.
“My family has a very long history for taking road trips. The Great American Road Trip has been part of my family’s history so my brother and I continued it. When I graduated college, he and I took a road trip around the United States. We were on a tight budget, so hot dogs seemed to make a lot of sense,” said Manolis.
“When we went to different cities, we’d ask for a hot dog. They’d ask what would you like on it? Of course, you say everything. ‘Everything’ in different cities means something different.”
George, a chef by trade, wrote down all the tastes and ingredients they experienced.
“We found in the South, they were topping the hot dogs with coleslaw. In Texas, there were different versions of chili dogs. In Baltimore, deep-fried. The best part of America — it’s a melting pot, and there are different culinary influences in different regions on the United States and that’s what we saw,” said George.
As a result, America’s Dog was born.
“Our menu originally featured 18 different city dogs. Everything from Albuquerque to Santa Fe to L.A, San Francisco, Atlanta to Nashville. We featured all those hot dogs on our original menu,” Manolis said.
Now, the brothers employ 50 people and own four locations: Navy Pier, inside O’Hare Airport, 22 East Randolph and inside the James Thompson Center.
The key to their success, they say, is sticking to the basics.
“When people come to Chicago, a hot dog is one of the first things they want. We offer the seven components of a hot dog: the mustard, the neon green relish, the tomatoes, the sport peppers, the pickles, the celery salt and the mustard,” said George.
And what about that whole ketchup debate?
“No ketchup,” he laughed. “Never put ketchup on a hot dog.”
“There’s one thing that everyone knows and everyone knows what a Chicago hot dog is and should be,” Manolis added. “It’s about a flavor profile. Ketchup is vinegar based and the flavor of the tomatoes, it just doesn’t go well. The debate is great for us — we love the publicity. It keeps us going. It keeps us in front of people. If you’re over 12-years-old, ketchup doesn’t belong on a hot dog,” Manolis affirmed.
For the “Hot Dog Brothers,” the iconic Chicago staple will always be their signature item, but they continue to add to their menu and expand. Furthermore, they even plan to franchise.
“The plan is to have three more open by the end of this year, and by the end of next year, to have six more open,” said Manolis.
With the franchise expansion in mind, the menu has been updated to include burgers, chicken sandwiches, fish tacos, salads, wraps and soups. Still, in the end, it’s the Chicago Style Dog that the Alpogianis’ say keeps locals and tourists coming back.
“Hot dogs to Chicago is what the pizza slice is to New York,” Manolis said. “You don’t mess with a classic; you keep it to its true form. We keep the Chicago hot dog original.”