The place, which opened on Southport in February 2010, had become a haven of sorts for ex-pats like me, offering up authentic Coney dogs, Greek salads and Vernors – that bubbly ginger-based concoction that those from the Mitten State undoubtedly grew up on.
The announcement on the chain's website pretty much summed it up: "We are sad to announce that effective Wed, September 28, 2011 Leo's Coney Island will permanently close its doors and cease operations in Chicago. We would like to thank everyone who has supported us over these last 20 months."
For many in Chicago, the place probably wasn't that big a deal. After all, it's not like there's a shortage of hot dogs in this town. But for those of us from Michigan, the place was a little piece of home. The Coney dog – basically a natural casing hot dog covered in chili and onions – has become a somewhat adopted food for us. Leo's had more than 40 locations in the Detroit area, and it is hard to go too far in southeastern Michigan without hitting some sort of Coney spot.
The thing is, Leo’s isn’t even the best Coney joint in Michigan – I’ll stay out of the argument between not-so-friendly Detroit neighbors Lafayette and American Coney Island – but it was a good start to showing Chicago that we could also make a mean hot dog. And it was a certain source of comfort. Living close to Leo’s Chicago outpost, I would walk by frequently and always slowed down to check out the smattering of Detroit Tigers hats and other Michigan gear the patrons were wearing.
With so many transplanted Michigan natives in the area, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before another Great Lakes State operation takes up shop in the Chi. Zingerman's, are you listening?
Future in question for Cloud 9