WEST TOWN — After almost 70 years in business, Duk’s Red Hots in West Town is preparing for a name change and remodel — but a hot dog stand will live on at its Ashland Avenue location, a longtime manager said.
Owner Mervyn Dukatt opened Duk’s in the mid-’50s at 636 N. Ashland Ave. with partner Donald Marsalle, growing it into a local chain with more than a dozen locations.
Dukatt and Marsalle called their hot dog stand Donald Duk’s Red Hots, which landed the business in hot water with Disney, according to a brief history published by Vienna Beef. They removed “Donald” from the name and went on to sell Chicago street food for decades, including not just Polishes and Italian beefs but deeper cuts like tamales, gravy bread and pizza puffs.
All of the Duk’s locations have since closed except for the original in West Town — which will soon be no more. The hot dog and burger joint will be remodeled and rebranded in early 2024, manager Carol Chavez said in an interview Wednesday. That includes dropping the Duk’s name.
“Dec. 31, Jan. 1, the new people are taking over. So far, it’s going to be the same, but I was told March or April it’s going to be closed for remodeling and just be something else,” she said.
Chavez, who has managed Duk’s for 20 years, said she was a “little shocked” by the news, which she learned about over the weekend from Dukatt’s son.
Chavez announced the changes Sunday in a Facebook post that has since been shared almost 300 times and racked up dozens of heartfelt comments from longtime Duk’s patrons and former employees.
Chavez said Wednesday she’s not entirely sure what the plan is for the new restaurant, but she’s heard it will continue to sell hot dogs and street food — albeit with a needed facelift. A message left at the office of Dukatt’s son was not immediately returned Wednesday.
“We will be under new management and will be receiving a face lift in the beginning of spring,” she wrote in her post. “We will no longer be Duk’s and we will be moving forward with the times — a change in the right direction and hope to have all of our old customers return as well as all of our new customers enjoy what we have to offer.”
Since Chavez announced the news over the weekend, Duk’s has been slammed with customers coming by for what could be their final fix before any changes take place, she said.
During the lunch hour Wednesday, that included Mario Gonzalez and Nicole Redisi, who drove in all the way from suburban Romeoville. The couple said they often ate at the West Town Duk’s while growing up nearby. They would hang out in the old game room, which used to be in the back of the restaurant.
“We saw that they were closing on Facebook. We come back all the time, but this was the main reason. We wanted to do it one more time,” Redisi said.
Gonzalez’s mom, Alicia Gomez, who went by “Leacha,” managed three other Duk’s locations in the ’70s and ’80s, he said.
“We grew up in all the Duk’s,” said Gonzalez, who put in an order for a double bacon cheeseburger on onion bread with grilled onions and mayonnaise.
“It’s going to be missed. I have a lot of memories here.”
News of the rebrand comes a few months after Duk’s was featured in a popular Instagram video produced by Vienna Beef, which plays on a viral meme format poking fun at Wes Anderson’s distinct directing style.
Chavez and the hot dog stand’s retro ads and storefront are featured throughout the video, titled “The Royal Tenenbeefs.”
Chavez said she’s worked at local businesses in the neighborhood her entire life and plans to stay on for whatever comes next.
“I’m not leaving. I live around here, so if they want to get rid of me, it’s going to be hard,” Chavez joked. “All the neighbors and all the kids and the dogs know me. The dogs come to the window to get their hot dog. So I’m not going to stop that.”
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