After a 35-year stint at Wells and Ontario in River North, Al’s Beef — one of Chicago’s most famous Italian beef vendors — is moving. The fast-food restaurant is staying nearby, moving to Ohio and Wells and replacing the vacant space once belonging to Yu Choy Chinese restaurant. Al’s last day will be Sunday at 169 W. Ontario Street, according to a news release.
Franchisees Ahmad, A.J., and Asad Haj hope to start construction on the new location in July at 548 N. Wells Street. They’re targeting a fall opening, hoping pandemic life settles down a bit before then.
Al’s Beef’s flagship is on Taylor Street, founded by Terry and Chris Pacelli. They’ve grown the brand, but have made changes in recent years. A Wicker Park location closed, as did one on Adams and Jefferson. Including River North, there are now four Chicago locations and two in the suburbs. While Chicago’s national street food reputation unfairly centers around hot dogs and pizzas, Al’s has helped keep Italian beefs and sausages part of the local conversation. The fresh-cut fries are also of note. The company has a storied history dating back to 1938.
In February, Al’s — like the many others in Chicago’s beef community — were surprised when Gonella Baking Co. announced a new business model. The iconic bread maker would no longer provide fresh French rolls for Al’s sandwiches. The company has transitioned to selling frozen dough to restaurants and stores to be baked onsite. After a thorough taste tests, Chris Pacelli says they picked a bakery called Lucca’s to deliver fresh bread for Al’s.
Al’s, with a drive-in and patio seating, competes with Portillo’s massive flagship in River North, across from the former Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s space. Staying in the neighborhood, there’s also Mr. Beef on Orleans. In other Italian beef news, Portillo’s announced today that it was opening a new restaurant in the state’s capital. A Springfield location, with the same double-drive-thru lanes as the River North restaurant, should open in the second half of 2021, according to a news release.