Almost a block away from the yellow-and-red striped awning, you can smell the sweet scent of onions on the grill.
If you’re hungry enough, regulars say, you can smell it from the Dan Ryan Expressway 24 hours a day.
At least that used to be the case. Jim’s Original — famous for its Maxwell Street Polish sausages and bone-in pork chop sandwiches — is, for the first time in living memory, no longer open around the clock. Jim’s landlord, the University of Illinois at Chicago, wants to cut down on crime in the area. So the university told Jim’s, at 1250 S. Union Ave., it needed to shut down between 1 and 6 a.m. daily.
The new hours kicked in Friday. When late-night customers pulled up to the cinder block building, some of them didn’t take too kindly to being turned away.
“The customers were very upset,” said Betty Domagala, a manager who has worked at Jim’s for 27 of its 83 years. “The [night] general manager got called names. We had security here.”
After the bars close in the area, there aren’t too many options if you get a case of the munchies. So Jim’s is a popular late-night option. The joint sells about 1,200 Polish sausages in a 24-hour period.
The troublemakers are few, mostly harmless drunks, Domagala said.
UIC officials did not return calls for comment Friday.
The original owner, James “Jimmy” Stefanovic, operated a little stand at the northwest corner of Maxwell and Halsted streets, beginning in 1939. He’s credited with creating the world’s first Maxwell Street Polish. Stefanovic wasn’t always open 24 hours. But when someone swiped 120 cases of soda from his business in the 1950s, he decided to keep it running through the night.
“The irony is that he stayed open to prevent theft, and I’m closing in case of crime,” said Jim Christopoulos, one of Stefanovic’s grandsons and the current co-owner of Jim’s Original.
Christopoulos, who lives in Southern California, said he hopes his customers understand that he’s not closing by choice. He also said he’s reluctant to say anything bad about his landlord.
“I’m hoping people won’t be upset at us, and that’s why I’ve listed UIC as the reason why we’re closed,” he said.
He estimates he does between 15% to 20% of his business during the hours he is now no longer open.
At lunchtime Friday, folks gathered five or six deep in front of Jim’s: university students, bricklayers, security guards, an ironworker.
“No onions! No onions!” yelled one customer, trying to be heard over the roar of passing expressway traffic.
Desmond Orr, 54, of Bronzeville, has been coming to Jim’s for 32 years. Orr, a carpenter, has three daughters. He took pictures of himself and his youngest at Jim’s a few years ago when it celebrated its 75th anniversary.
He said he’s never seen crime at Jim’s. He favors the Polish sausage.
“I’m getting an all-beef Polish with grilled onions and lots of mustard,” he said. “I”m going to smell my car up, and I’ll deal with it. I’ll be happy.”