End in sight for Dukes?
Panera interested in Harlem Avenue location
By Steve Metsch
If you like eating the Italian beef sandwiches – or “sammiches” as some South Siders say – at Dukes Drive-In, you may want to get there soon.
Dukes Drive-In, a fixture at 8115 S. Harlem Ave. in Bridgeview for the past 44 years, may be closing at that location and could be relocating, a manager said.
According to Bridgeview village officials, it’s already a done deal.
At the July 17 board meeting, trustees approved a special-use permit to allow outdoor dining and fewer parking spaces there for Panera Bread, which would move south about two blocks.
The zoning board of appeals had recommended approval, Village Trustee Claudette Struzik said.
“Everybody knows Dukes,” she said. “Well, it’s been sold.”
Not so fast, says Dukes manager Bridget Cummings.
“Dukes itself is not being sold. Panera is trying to buy the land. As of right now, no money has exchanged hands. We don’t have any kind of closing date. They have not made a monetary offer yet,” Cummings said.
|The days may be numbered for Dukes Drive-In at this location. Photo by Steve Metsch.|
Ideally, if Panera does acquire the site, Dukes will live on somewhere else, she said.
“We’re still open. Even if the owner of the land decides to sell, Dukes is not closing,” she said.
Does that mean Dukes will relocate?
“That’s what we’re thinking. We’re looking. It’s a work in progress. We’re not trying to go far because this is where our clientele is,” Cummings said.
Her uncle, Bill Humphrey, owns the land. Humphrey is the son-in-law of the late Duke Ziegler, who opened the restaurant in 1975. Humphrey is on an Alaskan cruise and not available for comment, Cummings said. Greg Mazak owns Dukes, she said.
“It’s still in the works. There’s nothing set in stone yet. Once we have a final decision, we’ll figure out what we’re going to do,” Cummings said.
Nonetheless, village officials are looking forward to Panera Bread being in Bridgeview.
“The Panera at 79th and Harlem, in that shopping plaza in Burbank, will be gone from there and it will be at Dukes … It’s a good win for Bridgeview,” Struzik said.
Struzik and fellow trustee Michael Pticek were feeling nostalgic after the board meeting.
“I guess Dukes been for sale for years,” Struzik said. “I heard they were for sale at the zoning board. I was like, ‘wow.’ I’ve lived here 53 years and I’ve always gone to Dukes.”
“Now they’re leaving. I’m happy and sad at the same time. I’m sad to see Dukes leave, but I’m happy to see Panera is moving over because I like Panera but I hate their parking. If I want to go to lunch there, I have to go at 10:30. Otherwise, forget it,” Struzik said.
She said she can’t fault the owner for selling.
“You get tired. We think it should go on forever, but I can tell you so many companies were started by family and the kids say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do it anymore’,” Struzik added.
Pticek noted that owners of classic cars still gather at Dukes on weekend evenings for car shows. But, Pticek added with a wince, “then they used to drag (race) down Harlem Avenue.”
Mayor Steve Landek said it will be a good move for Panera because they’ll have much more parking.
“That will be a nice revenue generator for us,” Landek said of the new Panera.
Dukes takes pride in being distinctive. The Dukes website notes the restaurant is “not affiliated with any other beef stands” It also said “we cook, trim and slice our own beef every day.”
“It’s a tedious process but worth every minute of our time to bring you the freshest, best tasting Italian Beef sandwiches around!!! Our Italian Sausage is made and delivered fresh daily by the same family since we opened, in 1975,” the website exclaims.
Italian beef sandwiches are served on another Chicago tradition, Gonnella bread, that is delivered fresh daily. They also make their own giardiniera at Dukes.
A 2014 Chicago Tribune story about Italian beef sandwiches had this to say about Dukes: “Dotted with green, red and black spices. Stuffed to the brim with finely shredded beef and long strips of green peppers. A sweet aroma to the sandwich, like a carrot-heavy mirepoix.”
Dukes was even featured in an amusing 2004 novel about growing up in the south suburbs.
“The Book of Ralph,” written by Burbank native John McNally, had several scenes set at Dukes. It was fitting, of course, that McNally decided to hold a book signing event at Dukes in 2005.
Told Dukes is likely closing at the current location, a truck driver sitting outdoors enjoying his lunch said it’s yet another example of a big corporation buying out a small Mom-and-Pop business.
“It (stinks),” he said.
— Desplaines Valley News