Beloved Bridgeport Restaurant to close after decades of feeding South Side
The owners were bombarded with calls once news of the Bridgeport institution’s closure spread. “We know we are always busy, but the way they think about the food, and about everything is amazing,” co-owner Josie Rodriguez said.
Irais and Josie Rodriguez have taken only one vacation in 12 years.
The two weeks they spent in Mexico last Christmas was the longest stretch the married pair has been away from Bridgeport Restaurant since they took it over. Actually, their two-week vacation was the only time off they’ve had in the decade-plus of owning and operating the restaurant at 3500 S. Halsted St.
For more than a decade, the couple has spent seven days a week, including every holiday, at the cozy diner, serving plates of comfort food to loyal patrons who view it as a neighborhood institution. They raised their two sons among the wood-paneled walls and cheery signs. Now in their early 20s, the boys work alongside their parents.
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But at the end of this month, the Rodriguezes will step away from their beloved Bridgeport joint once more — this time will close for good.
“I realized it’s time to retire,” said Irais Rodriguez, 62. “And I’m kind of sad, but I’m kinda happy, too, because I want to spend some time with my family. All these years I never had one weekend off.”
After they placed a sign on the front of their corner building announcing the closure, the Rodriguezes were inundated with calls and complaints bemoaning the announcement. Social media erupted, with many saying their day had been ruined by the news.
“When I go to a table and I say, ‘Is everything OK?’ They say, ‘No, it’s not, why are you closing?’” said Josie Rodriguez, 52.
On one of the final days of the Bridgeport Restaurant, customers whispered to each other wondering why the always busy spot would be closing up shop.
No one is quite sure how long the restaurant, sometimes referred to as Bridgeport Family Restaurant, has been around.
“We have customers who are 70 years old who remember coming here when they were a kid,” Josie Rodriguez said. “So no one really knows how long it’s been open.”
Kelvin Sandridge, who calls ahead to make sure his booth is available, was beside himself when he discovered his neighborhood diner was closing.
“Where am I going to go now?” Sandridge asked. “I’m really sad. I don’t know of any other place to go to now … That’s the worst thing.”
Sandridge, who lives around the corner, says he’s introduced at least six friends to the Bridgeport Restaurant.
Irais Rodriguez started in the food industry at an IHOP in 1979. He continued cooking and opened his own restaurant in 1991. Josie Rodriguez came to Chicago from Mexico when she was 18 and married Irais. Several more restaurants followed, until the couple bought the Bridgeport favorite 12 years ago.
“I told my husband, ‘Buy me that restaurant,’ because I thought I was gonna go to the [White Sox] games,” she said, laughing. “But we’re stuck here, we don’t even go. Now we’re going to have the time to go to the games.”
Josie Rodriguez is the face of the restaurant, warmly greeting customers, taking orders and handling the phone, while Irais Rodriguez stays back in the kitchen where he’s most comfortable — mixing together the dishes that keep their loyal fans coming back for more.
Fan favorites on the expansive breakfast and lunch menu include the green chilaquiles, the pancakes and the Bridgeport skillet that boasts three meats.
Generations of families dine at the restaurant.
The restaurant has its early risers who pop in at 6:30 sharp before their days begin. And the diner has been used by several television shows, including “Chicago PD” and “Chicago Fire.”
The pandemic wasn’t particularly hard on business either. They did not close for long and offered takeout. White Sox fans hang out before games, and Chicago’s notoriously freezing winters would drive cold residents into the building in even greater numbers.
But even with the constant stream of business, the couple say they had no idea how much people loved their diner.
“We know we are always busy, but the way they think about the food and about everything is amazing,” Josie Rodriguez said. “We never knew how much they cared.”
Meanwhile, Irais Rodriguez is looking forward to getting some sun — literally. His doctor told him he’s deficient in Vitamin D, which he chalks up to spending all of his waking hours in the restaurant.
The Rodriguez family owns the building and will likely rent out the space to someone else.
But the couple will hold onto the Bridgeport Restaurant name.
“It feels like we deserve to keep the name,” Irais Rodriguez said with a smile.
Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.