John and Janet Veliotis in front of their 35th & Morgan storefront, circa 1975 (Courtesy Johnny O's)

Bridgeport hot dog stand Johnny O’s is going through a transitional time. If you live in the neighborhood or have been by the stand, maybe you’ve noticed a change in their hours. The family business has paused its twenty-four-hour service after losing two major characters in Johnny O’s history: John Veliotis, known as Johnny O, and one of his sons, John Jr., both passed away last year, followed by additional staffing cuts.

“We’ve had our handful of night owls be upset about [the hours being cut], and there [are] some third-shift workers that come through that are a little upset about it,” said Peter Veliotis, son of Johnny O. “[Twenty-four-hour service] is something that we are going to reopen, probably spring [or] summerish. It’ll probably be a better crowd.”

The Weekly sat down with Peter and his brother Alex to talk about the future of the stand and the legacy that they’ve created in Bridgeport and beyond. As anyone who’s been to Johnny O’s will know, it’s kind of hard to determine what exactly the space is. Is it a restaurant? A diner? A hot dog stand? A convenience store? “The one-stop shop,” Alex said. “We’re going to start cutting hair and tailoring suits pretty soon,” Peter cracked.

It may soon be home to another attraction. The brothers are working to renovate a long-closed bar on their property—which has origins as a tavern—as a barcade, the South Side’s first. “John Jr. would love it,” Alex said. “Get some old-school arcade games in here, get the old jukebox going again—playing vinyl, no digital—and I think it’ll go pretty well. You know, do the craft IPA beer and we’ll do some wine tasting here. Ten, fifteen years ago we could’ve never done something like that, but I think now’s the right time for this area. I think we need something like that here.”

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Listen to the version of this story that aired on #SSWRadio, the Weekly’s radio hour on WHPK:

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Johnny O sings the National Anthem to open a White Sox game at then-Comiskey Park, circa 1978 (Courtesy Johnny O's)
Johnny O sings the National Anthem to open a White Sox game at then-Comiskey Park, circa 1978 (Courtesy Johnny O’s)

When Johnny O’s last operated a bar in its space in the ‘70s, “It was a whole different scene,” said Alex. The Black workers at the nearby Spiegel catalogue factory drank at Johnny O’s, while “the other bar down the street would have all the Polish guys, the other bar down the street would have all the Irish guys,” and so on, he continued. “At that time, back in those days, Bridgeport was considered a very rough area, but no one bothered nobody.” Over the years, the space would shift from bar to fast-food joint to convenience store, adjusting to different clientele coming into the neighborhood.

The Spiegel factory closed in the ‘90s, though the sense of community has remained. “We still see the Spiegel [workers] at the reunions—they have a reunion over at Dan Ryan Woods every summer—and we still go there and say hi to the old gang,” said Alex. “They all came to Johnny O’s memorial. That’s family.”

Through all the changes, Johnny O’s has remained a neighborhood staple. “We got fifth generation coming in here,” Alex said. “We’ve watched kids grow up, move out. A lot of them moved back and brought their kids, and said, ‘This is where we grew up.’ This is a historic site… We’ve had quite a few generations coming in here, and we hope to keep things going. We hope to be here for a long time.”

Johnny O’s Hot Dogs. 3436 S. Morgan St. 6:30am–10pm Sunday–Thursday, 6:30am–11pm Friday-Saturday—for now. (773) 927-1011.

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Erisa Apantaku is the executive producer of SSW Radio. When she’s not making #SSWRadio, she enjoys teaching podcasting to kids with Blok by Blok Chicago. She last wrote earlier this month about the opening of the city’s first Culver’s.

Layne Gerbig is a contributor to SSW Radio. She is a part-time public relations assistant, part-time freelance audio producer, and full-time podcast enthusiast. She produces a monthly sketch-comedy show called Thank You, I’m Sorry on Lumpen Radio. This is her first story for the Weekly.

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