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Superdawg founder Maurie Berman dies at 89

Maurie Berman | Superdawg photo

Maurie Berman, founder of Chicago’s Northwest Side hot dog institution Superdawg, died early Sunday in hospice care in Glenview, according to his family. He was 89.

One of the first drive-in fast-food joints of its time, Maurie and his wife, Flaurie, have been immortalized in cartoon hot dog-form atop Superdawg at 6363 N. Milwaukee for 67 years, a beacon of joy for encased meats enthusiasts for generations.

Maurie Berman returned from World War II — where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge — and studied at Northwestern University with Flaurie, his Von Steuben High School sweetheart, said his son Scott Berman, who manages the day-to-day operations of the Norwood Park restaurant.

The two were married in 1947. He was training to be an accountant and his wife a Chicago Public Schools teacher. Seeing other GIs returning from the war and starting small hot dog stands with walking carts, Mr. Berman got the idea for a restaurant where people could be served without leaving their cars, his son said.

Superdawg opened on May 8, 1948, with the couple originally looking to pay tuition costs in the summer, but soon it became a full-time operation, according to his family. As their family grew, so did their number of employees.

Maurie Berman, founder of Superdawg, died Sunday at age 89. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

“We learned our ABCs in the restaurant,” said daughter Lisa Drucker, who also helps manage Superdawg. “All of our family grew up together learning the business. It was a really special culture we created. We all know our way around the grill.”

Guillermo Garfias applied for a carhop position in 2002, which drew a laugh from Mr. Berman.

“Only girls are car hops,” Garfias explained. “But he gave me a job anyways.”

Now a manager, the 30-year-old said Mr. Berman “was a great man who opened this great business and pretty much gave us all a second home, a home away from home.”

A few months into his employment, Garfias’ basement apartment flooded. Mr. Berman gave him a loan.

Shortly after he was hired, Garfias skipped work on a Saturday to get married. He didn’t tell Mr. Berman of his plan because he was afraid of the repercussions.

“I called him at the end of the night and I told him, and instead of firing me or getting really mad, he was like, “You got married?!” Garfias said.

Full-time employees receive salaries, health benefits, occasional bonuses after particularly hectic work weeks and paid vacation, Garfias said.

“It’s sad,” said Todd Arcari, 47, who was taking his 9-year-old son, Nico, to Superdawg for the first time. “I used to come here, and I thought it’d be cool to take him here and show him what it’s like.”

Manager Guillermo Garfias said Maurie Berman “was a great man who opened this great business and pretty much gave us all a second home.” | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Superdawg pre-dates fast-food giants McDonald’s and Burger King, and Mr. Berman turned down offers to join such corporations to focus on his own restaurant, his family said.

“He wanted to create an experience unique and enjoyable for everyone who walked in the door. And he knew that you lose that personal experience when you start getting bigger and bigger. He had the pride and tenacity to stay true to what it was,” Scott Berman said.

Mr. Berman kept showing up for work every day and chatting up customers until a few months ago when heart ailments began hindering him, his family said.

“He was a brilliant man with a simple approach, and he was completely devoted to his family and his customers,” Scott Berman said.

The Berman family now is entering its third generation of Superdawg workers, after Mr. Berman’s great-granddaughter Talia chipped in at the restaurant last weekend, his family said.

He also is survived by his wife and children Lisa, Myles and Scott; and grandchildren Alyssa, Laura, Steffie, Max and Ross.

Funeral arrangements hadn’t been made Sunday afternoon, but both Superdawg locations will be closed Tuesday in Mr. Berman’s memory.