For the last two years, DönerMen have served European-style döner kebobs out of their food truck parked downtown. In a city that doesn’t have an abundance of döners—The Sixth recently removed a tasty one from their menu—that brightly-colored truck satisfies that void quite nicely. But today, the wheels come off, as DönerMen has announced they're opening a bar/restaurant, DMen Tap, at the former Square Bar & Grill in Avondale.
Co-owner Shawn Podgurski said they're gunning to open in early December. They'll offer counter service. They're doing a mock-up of their truck in the back of the restaurant. Diners will order from the mock counter, which is complete with the vehicle's artwork. They're trying to emulate the truck experience and guests will look at the menu posted and order just like they would at the truck. The Square space is in good shape, so it will be a quick turnaround.
"We're just doing a little work to make it our own," Podgurski said. "We're not doing remodeling or anything like that."
Having a complete kitchen will allow the staff to expand their street food selections. International travel inspired their menu and Podgurski envisions new additions like skewered shrimp that's inspired by vendors at Mexican beaches, Korean bulgogi, Turkish-style pizza and fried halloumi. He also wants to add more sausages. The truck's currywurst is very popular so they're hiring a sausage maker. They'll also do soups during winter, as well as rice bowls and offer delivery.
The truck will remain on the road, focusing on special events like Christkindlmarket, which starts Thursday at Daley Plaza. Podgurski acknowledged the difficulty in operating a food truck in the city. Food truck owners have to battle for a limited number of parking spaces. Securing a good spot near customers can make or break business for a day. Though they always intended to open a restaurant, these difficulties provided much of the reasoning behind seeking a storefront.
"Now if we don't get the world's greatest spot, it won't be devastating or stressful," Podgurski said.
DönerMan crew is friends with many local brewers—including Three Floyds Brewing Co.—so beer's important. They want to stock hard-to-find brews and they’ll have rotating handles on tap. Global flavors will also inspire their cocktail list. They're working on a Turkish coffee drink with Metric Coffee Co. using their Hellion nitro brew. They're also looking to mix a drink with Mate, a popular European carbonated energy drink. Cocktails won't be the focus, but look for a drink list composed of beverages consumed by "average Joe's across the world."
The space won't be a BroHole™. They’ll spin vinyl playing music that spans decades. The DMen Tap will be "an escape from the mundane." For loyal fans, they’re even offering packages, promising perks and an invite to the opening party.
Döners are very popular in Europe and elsewhere, but haven't caught on in Chicago. Why haven't döner kebobs taken off in popularity in the states? Podgurski's answer sounds a lot like why soccer lags in popularity in the U.S., there's too much competition.
"I guess we had pizza and tacos ingrained in our minds when it comes to fast food," Podgurski said. "It's just a little bit too late to the game."