Lola’s Coney Island, the Humboldt Park hot dog stand that focuses on the beloved chili-topped hot dogs savored by Detroiters, opened on Monday. Motor City native Jesse Fakhoury is a first-time restaurant owner and hopes to popularize the Detroit-style hot dog in Chicago, giving displaced Michiganders a taste of home. The menu is scaled back for now as staff focuses on core items. Though it’s already open, Lola will expand the menu and hours starting on St. Patrick’s Day, Sunday March 17 at 2858 W. Chicago Avenue.
They planned on being open this weekend, but they had some flooring issues and will close Saturday and Sunday to reopen on Monday. Fakhoury has been driving to Detroit once a week to import sausages and chili from National Coney Island, one of the many companies that make Coneys in Michigan. Nationals products are used by many Coney Island stands in Michigan, but there’s not as deep distribution in Chicago. While many stands may season National’s chili to give it their own tweak, Fakhoury will leave the chili as is; he wants to give customers a taste of pure nostalgia. Fans rave about how the chili complements the diced onion and yellow mustard at Detroit Coney institutions like Lafayette, National, and Leo’s.
The trips to Detroit don’t bother Fakhoury because he can visit family. For the first drive, he even took his daughter Lola, the restaurant’s namesake. He also stops to buy sodas from Faygo, the Detroit-based soda company. He also sells Faygo at the stand. These touches have paid off so far, as Fakhoury said over the last two days, a few native Detroiters have visited and given the stand high marks.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Fakhoury said.
The menu includes Coneys, Chicago-style dogs, loose meat burgers, Greek salad, and Greek-style chicken and lemon rice soup. The stadium-style buns are from Gonnella. That bread is more square than Chicago-style hot dogs buns. Fakhoury said Chicago hot dog buns are more oval shaped. He plans to serve Chicago-style hot dogs with Vienna Beef and other authentic ingredients.
Fakhoury is proud of his traditional burgers that feature quarter-pound patties made from beef from International Meats. He uses a secret seasoning and aioli on the 85-percent meat to 15-percent fat blend and tops it with Wisconsin cheddar. After the grand opening, he’ll have daily specials including a Friday lobster roll and a ribeye steak sandwich. Fakhoury said he’s also working on his version of a Chicago-style chopped salad. There’s also a “Coney Taco” that takes ground meat and stuffs it into a hot dog bun with tomatoes and lettuce.
Coneys aren’t new to Chicago, but they haven’t found a niche. Eventually Lola’s will offer delivery, which is one thing that Leo’s Coney Island didn’t do during its brief stint in Lakeview. While a popular brand in Detroit, the Chicago restaurant failed to capture the same magic and closed in 2011. Fakhoury doesn’t want to put too much blame on Leo’s. Online delivery services are more popular now than they were eight years ago.
It will take some time for Lola’s to get used to the area, and hours and menus could be adjusted based on demand. Right now, Fakhoury (who Chicagoans may recognize during Bulls or Blackhawks games on TV commercials for Mike Anderson Chevrolet) is just ecstatic at the opportunity to bring a taste of home to Chicago. Eaters can head over to Humboldt and grab a hot dog to help usher in warm summer thoughts right now as Lola’s Coney Island is open.
Lola’s Coney Island, 2858 W. Chicago Avenue, (773) 687-9459, open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; hours may extend to later after March 17.