Bobby Morelli and 9-year-old daughter Brooklyn gave Chicago’s gourmet hot dog scene a much needed injection of excitement with Bronzeville’s Hot Dog Box and the duo isn’t finished. After around nine months of selling out of a 400-square-foot box in the Boxville marketplace, Morelli now plans to open a larger restaurant with new menu items at 4020 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Portage Park.
Morelli aims to debut on August 1 — the one-year anniversary of the Bronzeville restaurant’s opening day. Though it opened over the summer, a Reader story gave Morelli and Brooklyn — a sausage princess popular enough to usurp the throne of the famed Abe Froman — some attention. Chicagoans are now beating a path to their shipping container restaurant for loaded filet mignon hot dogs and more.
That recent surge in media coverage has boosted business at the container in Bronzeville, Morelli adds. Long lines form outside the box, with lots of patrons eager to snap Instagram photos with Morelli and Brooklyn. Many are inspired by the father-daughter bond and want to support a Black-owned business. On several occasions, Morelli had to close early because demand was so high that he sold out entirely.
News about the box has also attracted investors, and Morelli says he’s talking with advisers about a possible profit-sharing investment plan. He’s excited at the idea but acknowledges the business is quite young and he’s not yet at a stage to give out equity in the company.
At about 2,000 square feet, the Portage Park space allows Morelli to offer a much larger menu and give him a chance to incorporate rotating specials. He does plan to keep the aesthetic fans have come to associate with the box by installing a bright red shipping container facade around the kitchen. “That’s definitely a part of our history,” he says. “We never want to forget that.”
Patrons can expect to find fan favorites like the smokey Bronzeville Bourbon dog, but should also be on the lookout for new sausage creations like an as-yet-unnamed dog with watermelon-infused barbecue sauce and red cabbage that’s topped off with pickled watermelon and shredded coconut. The team is also at work on a hot dog version of a turkey BLT, promoting turkey from a substitute for red meat to the star of the dish.
There’s a lot of work to be done on the former tailor’s shop in Portage Park. Morelli still plans to keep operating the original shipping container location with an abbreviated menu of the Bronzeville Bourbon dog, the Prairie Blues Steak dog (cranberry honey mustard, cabbage, collard greens), and a rotating seasonal option.
The Hot Dog Box carries on the proud legacy of Chicago’s gourmet hot dog shops, from shuttered spots including the venerable Hot Doug’s, Franks N Dawgs, and Hot “G” Dog, to popular encased meat spots like Devil Dawgs and Chicago’s Dog House. Morelli sets himself apart with unusual flavor combinations that often marry sweet and savory, and likes to make his own sauces. Many of the city’s other shops have touted relationships with local butchers: For example, Hot Doug’s procured its gourmet sausages from Paulina Meat Market in Roscoe Village. Morelli is tightlipped about trade secrets.
“I actually don’t disclose that particular info,” he texts to Eater Chicago.
A new location means the father-daughter team will have to bring in some new staff. As employee number one is still in elementary school, Morelli wants to make sure she still has time to be a kid. “I want to make sure she’s enjoying her childhood as well, it’s not just work work work,” he says. “I like to tell her, one day you could be the boss boss, the one running the show. She just laughs at me like, ‘ok dad, that’ll be fun.’”
The Hot Dog Box, 4020 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Scheduled to open in August.
- Dynamic Father-Daughter Duo Reaches for Hot Dog Greatness in Chicago [ECHI]