Jim's Original, a Historic Chicago Hot Dog Stand, Opens Its First North Side Location

Jim’s Original, the iconic Chicago hot dog stand founded in 1939 perhaps best known for its Maxwell Street Polish sausage and bone-in pork chop sandwich, will open its first North Side location in the Avondale neighborhood this summer.

“I was looking around our neighborhood for UIC and in the Loop, before COVID,” said Jim Christopoulos, co-owner of the family business.

Jim’s Original Avondale has transformed the property that was the late Chop Society and formerly Niko’s Gyros, with a family connection to boot.

“It belonged to my uncle, then my cousin,” Christopoulos said. “He wanted to get out of business, so I thought it was a good opportunity to try Jim’s Original on the north side of town, drive-thru.”

The new location will also offer indoor seating with bar stools at stainless steel counters. At the flagship, it’s a bare-bones operation with just a slim stainless-steel counter, outside and standing, so most diners eat in their cars or work vans.

“In fact, we will also have a patio in front,” Christopoulos said of the new location. “I bought tables and chairs for the summer.”

Otherwise, the menu will be exactly the same, and he’s trying to make the interior look like the flagship stand on Union Avenue in University Village.

“So when you walk, you have the same experience as standing,” Christopoulos said. “I’m trying to set ourselves apart from all the other copycat places.”

He’s trying to make sure people know it’s the original store on Maxwell and Halsted streets founded by his late grandfather.

“I’m named after him, my mother’s father,” Christopoulos said. “He was Macedonian and he came to this country in ’39. They called him James, Jimmy and Jim. But his last name was Stefanovic.”

Stefanovic attempted to sell caramel apples on Maxwell Street, but was unsuccessful. So he started working at his aunt’s store, then eventually bought it and took over.

“His aunt was sick or just tired of the business and she didn’t want him anymore,” Christopoulos said. “At least that’s what my mom tells me.”

Jim’s Original probably started out as a sidewalk cart selling Vienna hotdogs.

At Jim’s Original Avondale, Christopoulos put up two giant signs for the historic store, one photo from the 1940s and one from the 1950s.

“One with my grandfather standing behind what looks like a cart in front of Leavitt’s delicatessen,” he said. “I had hot dogs at the time and bottled soda.”

At first, the hot dogs were dressed only with mustard and chopped onions, Christopoulos said. Later came the grill and the hood for Polish sausages, pork chops and grilled onions, famous for their aroma.

They now offer their own proprietary packaged meats.

“We have our own Polish sausage made for us,” Christopoulos said. “And a few years ago, we also started having our own hot dog made for us. So we don’t sell the Vienna hot dog, but we do have a natural casing beef hot dog.”

They make their own sport peppers, also unusual for a hot dog stand.

“We used to buy sports peppers from Vienna too,” he adds. “But my father wasn’t happy with the price, so we started making our own. I don’t know if he was always a mountain man; since at least the 90s, we have been making serrano peppers.”

In 2019, Christopoulos started mixing their sport peppers in mustardbecause he thinks the peppers have gotten bigger and hotter.

“I realized I couldn’t eat them whole anymore, but I still wanted that heat,” she said.

Hot mustard and a new hot pepper tartar sauce for its fried fish sandwich will be available at both locations as on-demand condiments, but not yet by the bottle.

The new location in Avondale is expected to open by the second week of August, pending inspections and other factors.

“If I have enough employees,” Christopoulos said.

Staffing the main stand has long been widely praised as one of the smoothest operations anywhere in the city, no matter what time of day or night.

“But I can’t screw up a well-oiled existing machine,” Christopoulos said. “So I’m going to try to do some kind of cross-training.”

Please note that the main booth in University Village is no longer open 24 hours due to restrictions by its owner, the University of Illinois Chicago, as of last September.

Jim’s Original also does not own the property in Avondale.

“My goal is to buy it if we are successful,” Christopoulos said.

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It is not the first expansion of the family business. They previously had other locations, most notably on 95th Street for 24 years (claimed by eminent domain just like the original Maxwell Street location), and briefly on Halsted and Randolph Streets, Calumet City, and one in California (in Riverside next to the University of California, Riverside) in the 1990s.

“We call that Chicago’s Original Grill,” Christopoulos said. “There were some aspects that I don’t think we got right.”

He has plans for the future.

“I’ve been taking care of the store for 18 years,” he said. “The pandemic made me more focused. Let’s get on with this, but let’s do it better. Yes I can.”

Original from Jim, 1250 S. Union Ave., 312-733-7820; Jim’s Original Avondale, 2775 N. Elston Ave.; jimsoriginal.com

lchu@chicagotribune.com

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