A lot has changed on Damen Avenue in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago since George's Hot Dogs first opened in 1948 as a hot dog stand. What was once a poor, industrial neighborhood is now one of the city's most coveted areas, dotted with designer boutiques, hair salons and upscale cafes.
Through it all, and a few expansions, the cash-only locale has remained a neighborhood staple – in the same location –bringing in generations of families to enjoy the quick-serve Greek-American food.
“George's has become a tradition, and we owe it to our loyal customers. A lot of them have grown up, still continue to come decades later, bring families and little kids," says owner Tasso Ziamparas.
The restaurant has been in the Ziamparas family for all 65 years. It was started by Tasso's grandfather Vasilios, then run by his father, George. His mother, Mary, manages day-to-day operations. The restaurant is not named for George Ziamparas, but rather the common name George which has significance in the Greek culture and religion.
The interior of George's is what you'd expect from a quick-serve spot. A counter for ordering where you can grab a look at your food being prepared while wafts of the grill seep through the air. Much of their business is takeout (you'll see a lot of local police and firemen come through; there is a fire station across the street) but if you stick around, there is a smattering of tables and plenty of nostalgic décor to peruse. In fact, you may scope out an athlete or celebrity grabbing a quick bite somewhat anonymously.
The food is simple but fresh, with all produce and bread brought in daily. The best sellers are their hot dogs and sausages, gyros and Greek chicken salad. For being in such an expensive area of town, their prices remain incredibly reasonable.
Over the years, the restaurant has collected quite a few notable antiques from various vendor partners. Chicago's own Vienna beef supplies their hot dogs, and
“Coca-Cola has been a great partner of ours for decades, and we've collected quite a bit of their memorabilia over the years," Ziamparas said.
Some of that collectibles includes tin signs, napkin holders, outdoor table umbrellas, clocks and old-timey framed posters. The majority of the signs they hunted for at antique shops as they liked the look. In fact, they've acquired so much over the years that they don't have enough wall space to display it all at once.
“The hours are long and the business is tough," says Ziamparas, “but the family aspect and our loyal customers keep us going."