Chicago’s Superdawg, home of world-famous hot dogs — and lots of first dates

For three-quarters of a century, this ’50s-style drive-in has stoked romance.

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Lisa Drucker, left and her husband Don Drucker, co-owners of Superdawg sit together holding a Superdawg on a bench at Superdawg located at located at 6363 N. Milwaukee Ave, Thursday, May 4, 2023

Lisa and Don Drucker, co-owners of Superdawg, enjoy an iconic Superdawg on a sunny afternoon at their family-owned Northwest Side eatery. The couple met on a blind date several decades ago at the fast-food diner and have been married ever since.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

For one of their first dates, Francisco Foley took his girlfriend, Hannah Szatko, to the iconic Northwest Side drive-in Superdawg, where he favored the hamburger.

Szatko was a picky eater but tried the hot dog. Sitting in their car with the famous blue cardboard box, she “fell in love.” It soon became their go-to spot.

“It started to become a tradition,” Szatko said. “When something good happens, we go eat at Superdawg. When something difficult happens, we drown our tears at Superdawg.”

When it came time to propose, Foley surprised Szatko by designing a “Superdawg Cinco De Mayo special” with an engagement ring. He called it the “SuperLovie” and made a poster that Superdawg management happily hung over the parking lot. It advertised “a life full of happiness and joy” with a price of only “SAY YES.”

Ring firmly on her finger, Szatko took engagement photos with Foley under the neon lighting of Maurie and Flaurie, the famous 12-foot hot dogs flirtatiously winking at each other on the roof of Superdawg.

On Tuesday, Superdawg, 6363 N. Milwaukee Ave., celebrates its 75th anniversary. And while it might not look romantic from the vantage point of a busy street corner, the drive-in holds surprising appeal as the site of countless first dates, more than a few engagements and catered weddings. And it’s powered by a love story all its own, one that starts with Maurie Berman and Florence “Flaurie” Berman, the newlyweds who opened it in 1948.

Today, Superdawg is still run by the same family.

“It gives you the chance of having a private dining room without being in a fine-dine restaurant,” co-owner Lisa Drucker (Maurie and Flaurie’s daughter) said during a recent chat, sitting in the Superdawg dining room. She and her husband, Don Drucker, described the nostalgic joys of ordering from electronic speakers and having your meal served to you by carhops.

“It’s a nice place to be alone in your car and get to know each other and become comfortable,” Don Drucker said.

As a young man growing up in Chicago, Don Drucker said he never heard of Superdawg until he was set up on a blind date in 1987 with Lisa, and she invited him over to lunch at her parents’ restaurant.

“It was kind of nutty here.” Drucker said. “I came during lunch on a Saturday.”

Lisa Drucker chimed in with a smile: “To see your girlfriend!”

He agreed. They were married in 1988. and he became part of the Superdawg family, now a co-owner alongside his wife and her brother Scott.

“We’re so lucky because our days are spent together,” Lisa Drucker said.

She tells stories of other Superdawg romances — of longtime employees like the late Harold and Marie Kennett, who started working at Superdawg in the 1950s and were married in 1961. Both worked at the drive-in until they retired decades later.

None of this could have happened without the original Superdawg love story.

On May 9, 1948, Maurie and Florence Berman, then high school sweethearts only a year married, opened Superdawg as a summer business to fund his CPA education at Northwestern. He graduated but never practiced. Instead, Superdawg began running yearlong. It became an institution for families, cyclists and for many, many first dates. Maurie Berman died in 2015 at 89. Florence Berman died at 92 in 2018.

Even as ‘50s style drive-ins closed across the country over the years and later, even as COVID-19 threatened small businesses — Superdawg thrived, in no small part due to the family’s passionate commitment to the original drive-in model.

Longtime customer Jim Bohlman remembers riding his bike to Superdawg as a kid in the 1960s.

“It just evokes a lot of memories of how businesses used to be,” Bohlman said, “of keeping customers engaged in the business.”

Bohlman said he and Susan, his wife of 47 years, have spent many birthdays stopping by for a quick bite to eat.

“I’ve got an angel of a wife,” he said. “I save a lot on electricity. She walks in the room, and her halo lights up the room.”

He also met his best friend Bob Everly at Superdawg.

And then there are Cheryl Esken and Scott Gelman, who have been married for 34 years. When they met, Esken was in the radio business, and Gelman was a concert promoter. Esken picked the first date, a concert, and Gelman picked the first dinner spot, Superdawg. It was his favorite place to eat.

“We were in the car, and he was so excited to show me that they actually bring it to the window,” Esken said.

Esken and Gelman’s engagement also happened at Superdawg. After the birth of their only son, they brought the baby to Superdawg for his first outing. Now grown, their son Joey is a superfan like his parents. For their anniversary, Joey purchased a Superdawg drive-in menu, just like the ones used over the years by customers to place orders from their cars. The family proudly displays the menu inside their home.

New fiancés Francisco Foley and Hannah Szatko considered serving Superdawg at their upcoming wedding but said they went with a different option. Still, they hope to make a Maurie-and-Flaurie cake-topper for the nuptial cake.

They also plan to spend their first meal out as newlyweds there, the perfect ending to their big day.

Ahmed Ali Akbar is a James Beard Award-winning food writer and audio journalist in Chicago.

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