| || |
Now called Cooper’s Hot Dogs, owner Potter Wideikis wants people to know he’s serving the same great food that longtime Jr’s customers have grown to love.
“The menu is exactly the same. Nothing has changed since Jr’s. We have the same exact hot dogs, the same exact chili, the same buns. We didn’t change a single thing,” Wideikis said.
Wideikis and his partners — his wife and mother — purchased the restaurant last October but weren't allowed to keep the Jr’s name as part of the deal.
“We wanted to keep the Jr’s name but it just wasn’t something we were allowed to do,” Wideikis said. “Jr’s was a staple in the Burbank area for many years and I knew the name change wouldn’t go over well for some but we’re exactly the same.”
One of the first decisions Wideikis faced was renaming the business and said he was inspired by his beloved pets.
“It was originally supposed to be called A.J.’s in honor of my 14-year-old American Eskimo Dog that passed away last summer but we couldn’t use that because it was already taken,” Wideikis said.
Instead he named the new venture after A.J.’s playful younger brother, 8-year-old Cooper, a special needs dog who suffers seizures. “He’s a wild guy and we decided to name it after him.”
Wideikis, a former high school educator in Chicago Heights, said he misses teaching but left the profession because he always dreamed of owing his own business. “I decided I wanted to be my own boss and that’s how I ended up where I am now.”
Wideikis and his wife had been searching for a business opportunity for quite sometime when his real estate agent found that Jr’s was for sale.
“This is not something I originally wanted to buy. We were looking at getting into a microbrewery when this listing came around and my wife asked me to look into it,” Wideikis said. “We talked about it for a while, and we thought this is something I would be able to manage as a first-time business owner.”
Wideikis admits the learning curve has been steep since taking over. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” he said. “It’s been a handful for the last three months but I enjoy it.”
Wideikis retained all 10 Jr’s employees — including some Reavis and Oak Lawn High School students — and attributes his success during the transition to his staff’s hard work.
“I got really, really lucky with my managers,” Wideikis said. “They’ve been here for at least a decade. The last three months have been an education and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t know what to do.”
His first order of business was tidying up the building which was getting a bit long in the tooth.
“The building needed some work. We put in new blinds, we painted, we put in a dehumidifier to take the humidity out,” Wideikis said. “When you think of a restaurant, you want it to be clean because that’s where you get your food. It was real important to us during our first month of ownership to clean it up. Everything in the kitchen was cleaned. We even cleaned the air ducts.”
Wideikis is anxious for warmer weather so he can spruce up the grounds and install several picnic tables in the grassy area beside the building.
But don’t expect to see big changes in the menu. Wideikis doesn’t want to mess with success and is taking a wait-and-see approach before he modifies anything.
“This Jr’s hot dog is something people want. It’s a specific type of hotdog and we’re not changing it but we’re considering adding Vienna beef hot dogs as well. Customers have asked for them and it’s kind of a Chicago tradition so I want to look into it.”
Based on feedback from his staff, Wideikis is also considering adding soft serve ice cream.
Recognizing the need to be a good neighbor, Wideikis wants people to know that Cooper’s will honor Jr’s gift cards. He’s interested in partnering with local organizations on fundraisers and boosting the restaurant’s level of community involvement.
“We’re sponsoring a Burbank Little League team this year and an Oak Lawn Little League team,” Wideikis said. “We’re also giving a 20 percent discount to teachers, senior citizens, military, police and firefighters. We feel they are a staple of the community and giving them a break is always a nice thing to do.”
Hoping to connect with customers through Facebook and Twitter, Wideikis is also getting the word out through mailings. “We have an ad coming out in Val-Pak. People should expect to see that in the mail in a few days. It’s offering $2 off some of our meal-deals.”
“We’re trying to reach out to the community and let them know we’re here to support them...and hopefully they’ll support us in return,” Wideikis said with a chuckle. ❒
Cooper's Hot Dogs
5403 W. 79th Street, Burbank
M-Sa 10:30 a.m. - 8 p.m., Closed Sundays