Jesse Fakhoury admits he feels more confident than he did two years ago after he opened his Detroit hot dog stand, Lola’s Coney Island, in Humboldt Park. Chicago has no shortage of encased meat treasures, but Fakhoury — a Motor City native — yearned to give his adopted home a taste of what he grew up eating. Detroit-style hot dogs are known for tangy mustard and sausages slathered with onions and chili. The formula has proved so successful that Fakhoury is preparing to open another location. Today, Lola’s is debuting its second stand, inside Loyola University’s Damen Food Court in Rogers Park.
“Even if you go off campus, I don’t see much around there,” Fakhoury says. “[At Lola’s] you’re going to get a real Chicago hot dog, a real New York dog, and a real Detroit coney.”
He adds: “And I’m sure there are a ton of Michigan transplants who go to Loyola.”
The school’s food court is also open to the general public. As Fakhoury sorts out what college students will buy (it’s a long shot he’ll offer lobster rolls, a special item in Humboldt Park), Lola’s will adjust its menu. The grill crew will sling burgers, fried or grilled chicken sandwiches, and hot dogs. The “Chicago Meats Detroit,” a meaty handshake between the two cities that covers a Chicago-style charred Vienna beef hot dog with Detroit-style chili, is a highlight. Fakhoury has also added a special item aimed at Loyola students: chili-cheese mac bites. Another difference between Humboldt Park and Rogers Park is that the burgers will be char-grilled instead of cooked on a flattop. Sorry folks: Lola’s avgolemono soup (lemon chicken rice — it’s a Detroit favorite) will remain in Humboldt Park.
Before the pandemic, Lola’s had a successful residency at a University of Chicago dining hall. The school’s operation is run by Aramark, which also serves Loyola. The company wanted to set Fakhoury up in the same situation in Rogers Park, but while touring the student facility, he noticed a vacancy for a full-time food vendor. Loyola officials liked Fakhoury’s interest in the space, and instead of a temporary residency, Lola’s now finds itself as a permanent university fixture.
The deal happened quickly at the end of September. Fakhoury, who works at an auto dealership, says his dream is to franchise Lola’s and to find a trustworthy backer. But he doesn’t want to bite off too much. Some restaurant lose quality after new investors enter the picture who may be inclined to cut corners to maximize profits. Chicagoans are right now holding their collective breaths hoping that won’t happen with Portillo’s Hot Dogs and Lou Malnati’s pizza.
Another curious case is from Detroit where Coney Island chains proliferate and fans argue over quality. One Detroit chain, Leo’s Coney Island, has returned to Chicago with a small location in Lakeview. Its initial entry into Chicago was a flameout. But Fakhoury says he’s visited the new Leo’s.
“Honestly, it was good,” he says. “But the actual sausage, I think our sausage blows them out of the water... But I don’t care. I pretend they’re not even here.”
Lola’s Coney Island Loyola, inside Loyola University’s Damen Food Court, 6511 N. Sheridan Road, opening at 4 p.m. on Monday; regular hours to start Thursday.