Controversy has dogged the Windy City Hot Dog Fest, scheduled to take place this week in Portage Park, after the owner of a popular neighborhood stand claimed that he was overlooked by the event’s organizers — even though the festival will take place right outside his front door.
The Six Corners Chamber of Commerce, organizers of the hot dog fest, invited eight vendors from around the city to spend the weekend on Milwaukee Avenue between Cuyler Avenue and Irving Park Road hawking their dogs and competing for the title of festival favorite, but Bobby Morelli, owner of the Hot Dog Box, a local favorite that opened this past January at 4020 N. Milwaukee, just north of Irving Park, says he was not among them.
Morelli told his social media followers about the snub earlier this week. Outrage followed. It’s difficult to say if the online criticism will affect the festival’s bottom line.
Morelli says he first became aware of the festival in May when he noticed a promotion for the event on the marquee at the nearby Portage Theater.
“How would they have a hot dog festival blocking off our street and not even inform us about it before they went public?” Morelli says. “[They’re] allowing all of this competition to come into this neighborhood and literally sit in front of the Hot Dog Box. I don’t want to believe it was maliciously done but it’s still very perplexing that they would have a hot dog fest and not invite one of the bigger hot dog stands that’s right their backyard.”
Puzzled by what felt like a snub from the chamber, whose offices are just down the block from the Hot Dog Box, Morelli took to Facebook to express his concerns in a now-deleted post. When chamber leaders began receiving negative feedback about the Hot Dog Box’s absence online, Morelli says they apologized for the oversight and asked him to remove his comments. He acquiesced, but declined a belated invitation to participate in the festival.
His refusal is in part due to cost — he’d have to pay around $1,500 to set up a stall outside his own business — but also as a matter of accountability. “I already felt disrespected to where the trust factor had been broken,” he says. “Putting tax dollars toward a festival that’s expected to bring 8,000 to 12,000 people with no guarantee it will benefit the businesses that are here? I don’t know what they were thinking.”
His customers and fans agree. “Wait, what? The Hot Dog Box isn’t included in this fest?” a Twitter user wrote Wednesday. “They cut out an actual business, new to the struggling 6 Corners, one that focused on hot dogs? Unreal.”
“Hot Dog Box is the only reason to even dine around Six Corners, this is absurd,” a patron commented on Twitter.
“I’m excited to finally go check out the Hot Dog Box this weekend while I go out of my way to not give any money to Hot Dog Fest,” another quipped.
I'm excited to finally go check out the Hot Dog Box this weekend while I go out of my way to not give any money to Hot Dog Fest https://t.co/FfKwnY2Ues— Fueled by Diet Soda and Bluey (@hailtodavictors) June 1, 2022
The Six Corners Chamber of Commerce declined to specifically address Morelli’s concerns. A rep writes in an email that Morelli and his business were invited but chose not to participate. The chamber’s president, Michael DiMeo, told Block Club Chicago that the organization tried to contact Morelli via phone, email, and in-person visits by volunteers. Morelli said he never received the messages.
The festival, co-organized by Chicago-based event company Special Events Management, lists eight participating hot dog vendors on its website, none of which appear to be based in Six Corners. These include local institution Byron’s Hot Dogs, which has locations in Wrigleyville and Lincoln Park; Chicago’s Dog House, also in Lincoln Park; and Detroit-style spot Lola’s Coney Island in Humboldt Park and Rogers Park.
For Morelli, the incident reveals a fissure between the chamber and its neighbors, and he hopes it will lead to conversations around inclusion in the neighborhood’s business community. “I’m not bitter, but I’m disappointed that the same people who came when we were opening, who smiled in our faces and used our likeness [on the chamber’s Facebook page], would not include us in the ideation stage of [the festival] until after the fact, as if it was an afterthought,” he says. “That doesn’t sit well with me.”