It’s not Waffle House, but popular Atlanta-based diner chain Huddle House is planning to open its first Chicago location on the South Side next spring. One of three developments on the east side of Stony Island in Calumet Heights, Huddle House is slated to open in March 2020 at 9401 S. Stony Island Avenue on one acre of a five-acre vacant lot where a motel once stood, its local franchisee says. The chain currently operates 344 locations nationwide, including nine in southern Illinois.
Founded in 1964, Huddle House offers hearty “homestyle” breakfast, lunch, and dinner options that are all available ‘round the clock. “At a lot of places, you have a time limit for breakfast, or you walk in and lunch hour is over, it’s dinner time. Here, you can walk in at any time and have anything,” said franchisee and Chicago native Sam Elahi.
Waffle House, the iconic Southern diner chain that’s Huddle House’s most significant competitor, isn’t planning to enter the Chicago market any time soon. “We do not have any plans to expand into the Chicago area in the near future. However, that’s not to say we will never be in Chicago,” Pat Warner, director of PR at Waffle House, wrote in an email.
Diners can expect to leave Huddle House sated thanks to its sizable portions. Breakfast items include “stuffed” hash browns piled with cheese and meat such as ham or country fried steak, waffles, french toast, and omelets. For lunch and dinner, customers can order burgers like the “Mega Bacon Cheeseburger,” melts, sandwiches, salads, or Huddle House’s “Five Star Chili.”
The first Chicago space will be 2,800-3,000 square feet and will seat about 100 people, according to Elahi. He estimates that construction will begin in August, and the restaurant will resemble other Huddle House locations with booths, tables, and a long diner counter with stools.
Elahi, an entrepreneur in the food and beverage industry for 30 years, said he’s worked on the South Side for a long time and was always struck by the lack of breakfast options for residents. Though he reached out to other franchise restaurants, none were interested in coming to the area. Eventually, working in partnership with Alderman (8th Ward) Michelle Harris, he secured an agreement with Huddle House to build the restaurant from the ground up.
In addition to diversifying the dining options in the area, Elahi said he is focused on providing jobs to residents and stimulating economic development. Once the Calumet Heights location is underway, he plans to open three more Huddle House restaurants on the South Side. Each will employ 70-80 people.
“I’m the kind of person that thinks you have to really be in the community and help the community out, find out what it wants,” he said. “I want to get people trained to enter the food industry, youngsters who want to get into the field.”
There’s been conjecture that Huddle House has been in Chicago before due to a similarly named restaurant at Ashland and North in Wicker Park in the Hollywood Grill space. Elahi said that restaurant had nothing to do with the chain. “There has not previously been a Huddle House in Wicker Park or in Chicago city limits,” a Huddle House representative confirmed in an email.
The Chicago Sun-Times first reported on Huddle House’s Chicago plans.
Stay tuned for more news as Huddle House breaks ground.