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Judge OKs controversial hot dog stand in East Pilsen

Customers order this Express Grill South UniStreet. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times file

Customers order at this Express Grill on South Union Street. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times file

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Updated: August 30, 2011 12:15AM



For nearly three years, East Pilsen neighbors have battled to keep what they consider a rather unsavory business from the corner of 18th and Halsted.

Locals weren’t worried about a liquor store or strip club. To them, there was an even bigger threat to the quality of life in the increasingly artsy neighborhood — an all-night polish sausage stand.

Despite their concerns, a Cook County judge last month gave Express Grill — one of the original Maxwell Street hot dog joints, now operating near Roosevelt and Union — the go-ahead to start serving up its beloved Chicago fare: succulent grilled sausage topped with charred onions, sport peppers and a dollop of mustard on a bun.

The ruling gave some folks in East Pilsen, including Ald. Danny Solis, heartburn.

“It’s a terrible place for a place like that,” Solis said. “It will create a nightmare.”

East Pilsen residents and business owners started complaining once construction of the concrete block stand sprouted from the rubble of a former tavern.

At a public meeting in 2008, folks argued the pungent aroma of fried onions, the crush of double-parked cars and the overflowing trash — not to mention the loiterers, criminals and prostitutes it might attract — would overrun the narrow corner. In response to their complaints, Solis, a close ally of Mayor Daley, used his political might to place a “hold” on Express Grill’s business license application.

But on April 15, Judge Nancy Arnold ruled that Express Grill owner Alex Lazarevski did everything right, including securing building permits, applying for the license and starting construction.

Lazarevski plans to open the stand as soon as possible.

“They made a big deal out of nothing. … Now, I’m not budging on anything. They put me through hell for three years. It was definitely unfair to me. It was very expensive. You can’t give someone permission to build something and then say you change your mind,” Lazarevski said. “I’m sorry it’s not an art studio or whatever else they want there.”

Carlos Chavarria, owner of Kristoffer’s Cafe and Bakery across the street from the stand on Halsted, said locals will be watching to make sure they’re good neighbors. “The smell will have an effect on us, but I’m mostly concerned about safety. That place will create a lot of havoc and hazards for pedestrians,” he said. “Traffic patterns there are not suitable for that type of business no matter what type of day it is. It’s not practical.”

Solis said he’s instructed police and every pertinent city department to be “on alert” for trouble on that corner.



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