PORTAGE PARK — The owner of a popular Six Corners hot dog joint publicly accused the business chamber of excluding him from its upcoming Windy City Hot Dog Fest, but chamber officials that’s incorrect and was a misunderstanding blown out of proportion.
Bobby Morelli, who opened The Hot Dog Box at 4020 N. Milwaukee Ave. earlier this year to much fanfare, called out its organizers, the Six Corners Chamber of Commerce, in a social media post that’s since been spread widely, saying he felt shunned from the large hot dog fest. The fest will take over the Six Corners business district this weekend with 40 food and arts vendors from across the city.
“I’m not being malicious or have a salacious intent behind what I am saying,” Morelli told Block Club Thursday. “It’s more about bringing stuff like this to light so that people understand that inclusion is important, whether it was an intentional oversight or not, I don’t know … I can only speak to how I felt.”
Chamber President Michael DiMeo said there was no intention to exclude The Hot Dog Box or any business. The group invited all local businesses to participate and tried to contact Morelli with emails, phone calls and in-person visits by the chamber’s members and volunteers, DiMeo said.
But the hot dog stand owner said the outreach never reached him and he found out about the fest upon seeing it on the Portage Theater’s marquee.
Morelli decided to go public with the allegation this week, after the business received numerous messages asking why The Hot Dog Box wasn’t participating or sponsoring the Six Corners festival. The social media post spurred comments from both sides, some defending the chamber and some supporting the hot dog joint. Some posts also got political, which both Morelli and DiMeo said was uncalled for and irrelevant.
Morelli attended a planning committee meeting in April about the fest after it was public and decided not to participate because of his disappointment in how the event planning and outreach were executed, he told Block Club.
Chamber members said they tried to work with the owner to have some level of participation and help offset the costs of having a presence on the street, but Morelli declined out of principle.
He said he was told the festival was built around his business, but chamber officials said the hot dog fest was not made for him, though they hoped he’d participate.
“Special Events Management actually has trademarked Windy City Hot Dogs that goes back years,” DiMeo said. “This is not something that was created because of Bobby. This platform to run a festival existed for years.”
The event was originally going to be a taco and tequila festival but after partnering with events company Special Events Management to help produce the festivities, that idea was scrapped. Since Special Events Management has hosted several hot dog-related events throughout the city in the past, it seemed like a better opportunity, organizers said.
The cost of participating in the fest, which also includes over 10 artists at its artisan market, was $2,000 for food vendors. Planners said the cost needed to be high for the festival to make a profit and cover all of the fixed costs.
“Each vendor pays an upfront fee with us and, in turn, keeps any revenue after expenses,” said Karyn Terrones, media and marketing director with Special Events Company. “This is not a ticketed event so whatever the vendor makes at the event, they keep.”
Terrones said the fest features 10 hot dog stands from around the city, but Morelli would have liked the fest to better represent the Far Northwest Side and celebrate the businesses “in this particular neighborhood that have been working very hard to keep their doors open during this pandemic.”
Some neighbors also criticized the festival for not featuring any local hot dog vendors, but DiMeo said outreach to Far Northwest Side hot dog businesses was done before reaching out to citywide hot dog stands.
“When the local businesses choose not to be involved, then we branch out,” he said.
Area hot dog stands Roma’s Italian Beef & Sausage at 4237 N. Cicero Ave. and Jeff’s Red Hots at 3901 N. Cicero Ave. both were invited to participate but decided not to because of low staffing.
“I don’t have the staff,” said Freddy Rafidi, owner of Roma’s. He said the public callout seemed unnecessary.
The owner of Jeff’s Red Hots will be a judge for the hot dog contest as a way to make sure the longtime business is part of the festival, DiMeo said.
Other businesses in Six Corners also received emails inviting them to participate and letting them know of the festival, but some owners say the chamber could do more to be inclusive and let business owners know of future events.
“Being a business in the neighborhood, we shouldn’t have to rely on a newsletter or social media to be informed about an event taking over the street in front of our business,” said Joey Beato, owner of Community Tavern at 4038 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Beato, who does not receive the chamber’s emails, found out about the hot dog fest from Morelli. He hopes that going forward, the chamber is more active with personal outreach and working together with all owners.
DiMeo, the owner of Singer Factory Distributor in Six Corners at 4914 W. Irving Park Road, said he understands the challenges of running a business but that the chamber has done extensive outreach, which can be difficult when businesses have particular hours and the chamber is run by volunteers.
He said he has no animosity towards any Six Corners business and hopes to work with more owners for future events.
“The encouragement to participate in the future… with hopefully the event of more time, we will do an improved job of communicating,” he said.
Morelli said he is not angry and he’s open to working with the chamber in future events, provided that there is more communication and a clearer planning process.
Even without The Hot Dog Box’s direct participation in the fest, DiMeo said the business will still benefit from the added foot traffic, which is a plus for Morelli and other businesses open during the weekend. The Hot Dog Box will be open both days from 12-8 p.m.
“The end goal [for the hot dog fest] was to introduce people to Six Corners and see it revitalized …. that it will be a hot spot,” DiMeo said. “The bigger mission is bringing the community together and introducing a business district.”
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