The soggy crowd of about 500 standing outside Hot Doug's Friday morning roared around 10:30 a.m.
"We are open!" yelled a Hot Doug's staffer as he unlocked and opened the door to the sausage superstore on its final day of business.
Proprietor Doug Sohn wore his customary Hot Doug's T-shirt and said he was sorting through mixed emotions, but he wasn't afraid to crack jokes. Sohn's friend, Paul Kelly, will step behind the cashier's counter Friday night and serve Sohn the final sausage. Sohn said he'd even been practicing as a customer, rehearsing lines like asking: "Are you Doug?"
The menu includes a celebrity sausage, as always. Today's celebrity? The "Barbara Tyksinski"—Sohn's long-time girlfriend—which is an escarole guanciale (pork cheeks) topped with parsley, garlic butter and Camembert cheese.
That's what Max Simmons ordered. To the envy of many (but not his wife), Simmons was the first customer served on Friday. An auto worker from Chicago, Simmons ate at Doug's on Thursday, getting in line at 8 a.m. He promptly got back into line and brought a canopy at 4 p.m. Thursday, staying despite heavy rain overnight.
Simmons yawned a few times as he waited while his friends started chanting "King Max." He said he had dined at Doug's "a million times." But it wasn't the food that brought him back, it was Sohn's friendliness. Simmons' friends reiterated that point later in the morning by taping a banner outside the restaurant reading: "the fries are good, the sausages are great. But our friend Doug is why we wait." Customers then began signing the banner high school yearbook-style.
While the rains soaked the customers, their spirits were high in anticipation. A balloon-twister, Scott Ingerson, took the time to create balloon hot dogs for customers.
But not everyone is a fan. A neighbor living above Hot Doug's told CBS2 that she was ready for the lines to go away. "I want it to be over," she told the station before departing for a trip at O'Hare International Airport.
Others living nearby, including Tom Seymour, vented, saying the lines brought traffic which snarled their morning work commute.
But, as the kids say, those were the haters. John Lucas isn't among them. He's washed Doug's windows for the last six years.
"My heart just broke," Lucas said, upon hearing the news of closing. "He's a great guy."