Less than a month after closing in Portage Park, for a myriad of reasons, noteworthy Chicago sausage spot the Hot Dog Box will reopen in a downtown food hall. Owner Bobby Morelli is bringing fan favorites like the Bronzeville Bourbon Dog and new submissions to the Loop, steps away from Daley Plaza. The new Hot Dog Box is scheduled to open on Monday, January 9 inside Urbanspace Washington at 15 W. Washington Street.
On Washington Street, the Hot Dog Box will operate alongside vendors like indie Thai restaurant Keadkao Express, vegan bowl and sandwich spot Plant Junkie, Indian street meat stall Bhoomi, and the Budlong hot chicken. For Morelli, the diversity of diners in the area and the hall itself provide culinary inspiration. “As a creative and an artist, I feel like I can push the envelope a little bit more in this new spot,” he says. “I can expand the horizon of how we enjoy hot dogs.”
Originally founded in August 2020 inside a red shipping container in Bronzeville’s Boxville marketplace, the Hot Dog Box cultivated a loyal following with gourmet steak dogs piled high with toppings like chipotle shrimp and pepperoni with mozzarella. The business was bustling, and in January 2022, Morelli relocated the stall to a permanent space on the North Side where he hoped to expand the menu and hone the brand.
As the months progressed, however, challenges emerged, including limited pedestrians and few regulars from the neighborhood. Another part of the city, he realized, might be a better fit for his inventive approach. The Portage Park restaurant closed permanently in mid-December, though Morelli at the time maintained that he had more plans in the works for the Hot Dog Box.
“We felt that we needed more foot traffic and needed to be in a more tourist-dense neighborhood,” says Morelli. “When Urbanspace reached out, it just made sense to partner with a space like that.”
Though he’s not ready to release a finalized menu, Morelli promises that patrons will be able to order longtime favorites from the Hot Dog Box’s original offerings as well as fresh creations with staggered releases (for example, a summer series) due to the stall’s small space. He’s also held polls on social media to see what kind of side dishes his customers prefer, resulting in a “loud roar” for french fries that will appear among his new options.
In announcing the closure in Portage Park, Morelli questioned the neighborhood’s openness to diversity, and that led to defensive responses online claiming a gourmet hot dog stand had no place in a so-called working class neighborhood. While the Hot Dog Box charges around $12 for fancier options, those online pundits ignored that the stand’s menu maintained simple hot dog, charging $3.75.
Morelli, for his part, seems eager to distance himself from those controversies.
“I’m excited to let people know [the closure] is not how our story ends,” says Morelli.