Detroit ex-pats rejoice, a Coney Island is coming to Chicago

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CC photo via peter pelisek/Flickr

Chicago is a natural next move for loads of Detroiters, but it doesn’t come without a cost.

Namely, if you want to get a proper Coney Island hot dog, you’re pretty much stuck making the 4-plus hour trek east on I-94 to hit up any one of the Motor City’s flagship diners.

This chili-smothered, tubed-meat pilgrimage has been all-too-familiar for Detroit native Jesse Fakhoury since he moved to Chicago in 2000.

“I literally just wanted a coney, I was fiending for one,” says Fakhoury, who in March is planning to open Lola’s Coney Island (named after his daughter) around Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.

Along with Coneys (with coney sauce and hot dogs from National Coney Island and buns from a Chicago bakery), the casual lunch counter will serve Greek salads, Chicago-style dogs and NY-style sausages (both using Vienna beef products), burgers and another Detroit classic, a chicken tender pita wrap inspired by the “hani” that Fakhoury will call “The Joey” (after his newborn son).

Fakhoury grew up in Southwest Detroit and has fond memories of hitting up Duly’s Coney Island. His mother was the matriarch of their Palestinian/Jordanian-American family and worked at the E & L for many years. A few years ago, his cousin, chef George Azar, ventured into his own Coney enterprise of sorts when he transformed the old Vernor Coney Island by Clark Park into the critically-lauded Flowers of Vietnam.

It’s these influences that sparked Fakhoury’s interest in opening an eatery that could recreate a little bit of back home for him and other Michiganders who’ve relocated to the Windy City. In fact, Azar and former Flowers sous chef Joe Flores have both stepped in to help Fakhoury — who by day works at a car dealership — with insights on the ins and outs of restaurant operations, recipe testing and other details.

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Photo courtesy of Jesse Fakhoury

Lola’s will open in the former GoGo’s hotdog stand in the Humboldt Park/Ukrainian Village area, an area on the northwest side of Chicago. Fakhoury says he sees similarities between the area and his childhood neighborhood — both historically working-class ethnic enclaves that are now experiencing the pangs of gentrification. The Chicago neighborhoods are much farther along down that path than Southwest, with skyrocketing real estate values and longtime residents, politicians and business owners worried about affordability.

Having this insight, Fakhoury wants to honor the area’s roots and keep Lola’s an affordable spot where techies and rail workers alike can enjoy the simple pleasures of the Coney.

“I had a meeting with Ald. Roberto Maldonado… he said to me, ‘I hope you’re not gonna come yuppie up my neighborhood,'” Fakhoury tells Tostada Magazine.

To that, he replied: “If you’ve been to my neighborhood (in Detroit) you know I’m not yuppie-ing up anything.”

The addition of Lola’s is the latest attempt for Coney Dog aficionados to bring the iconic Detroit delicacy to a wider audience. National Coney Island already has a presence in Las Vegas and in 2011, Leo’s Coney Island tried its hand at a Chicago location, but it closed after two years, much to the dismay of Fakhoury.

So Fakhoury decided to do something about it.

“Legit, it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for five years,” he says.

He’s hoping to open Lola’s by St. Paddy’s Day.

Lola’s will be located at 2858 W. Chicago.

This article was made possible by the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, that’s working to increase quality journalism and help better inform communities.

Serena Maria Daniels

Author: Serena Maria Daniels

Serena Maria Daniels is the co-founder and head chingona of Tostada Magazine. She is an award-winning journalist based in Detroit and specializes on the intersection of food, identity, and culture.

Find her on Twitter and Instagram @serenamaria36!

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