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New owners reimagine classic hot dog stand in Chicago's West Town neighborhood

New owners planning a new concept for an old Chicago hot dog stand
New owners planning a new concept for an old Chicago hot dog stand 01:53

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago is known for its beloved neighborhood hot dog stands – and a historic one is getting a facelift after serving customers for 70 years.

CBS 2 spoke to the new owners of the former Duk's Red Hots, at 636 N. Ashland Ave. in West Town, about upgrades coming to the legacy eatery.

It all starts with a new name.

Duk's was founded in 1954 by Mervyn Dukatte and Donald Marselle. It was originally known as Donald Duk's, but was shortened after the original name ran afoul of Walt Disney Productions.

Tony Pagliuca

Published reports note that Duk's once had 16 locations across Chicago – including one at Ridge Avenue and Clark Street behind Nicholas Senn High School in Edgewater, another at Kedzie Avenue and Irving Park Road in the Irving Park neighborhood, and another still at Ashland Avenue and Blackhawk Street, also in West Town.

But the location at Ashland Avenue and Erie Street was the last standing until it closed under the Duk's name around the end of last year – to make way for a new concept.

Now, many old and familiar features of the old Duk's are still around – the sounds of the deep fryers, the taste of the French fries – and for now, the marquee lights and the red and white exterior paint scheme that some said evoked a carnival. But what used to be Duk's is now Modern Relish.


"Yeah, you've got to be a little crazy to jump into this," said Modern Relish co-owner Tony Pagliuca. "It's not that easy."

Pagliuca and Angela Villanueva bought the former Duk's last year. It opened in January under its new name.

"We were looking for a restaurant business, and we always loved the Chicago hot dog business," said Pagliuca.

"There's some love, there's some passion, there's a lot of excitement – and for me, it's fulfillment," said Villanueva.

Pagliuca and Villanueva are planning a major overhaul of the iconic hot dog stand. The dining room will get a facelift – with new paint, lighting, and flooring.

But the bigger changes will be outside.

"So this space here has been kind of underutilized, I think, over the years," Pagliuca said as he stood on the patio. "So our plan is to really scrape the entire area, put a new slab, new fencing like I mentioned, new glass, and paint the building and really light it up."

Pagliuca added that at the back of the patio, weathered red and white fence with a row of marquee lights at its top will be taken down - and replaced with something new.

"That's' where we're planning to put a shipping container – and we can open up as a bar and a service area," said Pagliuca.

The building will also be brighter, with a neighborhood flair and street art on the exterior.

The renovations will take a while. The restaurant plans to close in early March, and reopen – refreshed and remodeled – in late April.

A rendering of what Modern Relish will look like when it's done – with lime green being the dominant color instead of red and white, and with a patio with tables and chairs instead of picnic tables and a bar with sports on television behind it.

Tony Pagliuca

But the core menu will remain the same, and so will the history of hospitality at Modern Relish – and Duk's before it.

"I want to have everybody experience the passion and the fun and the excitement that we have – just in a different way," said Villanueva.

One thing that won't change is the Vienna Beef sign out in front. Pagliuca said it will be cleaned up and refurbished – and remain on Ashland Avenue.

In addition to alcoholic beverages, another big change coming to Modern Relish is breakfast.

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