While being proclaimed the best in any state would undeniably be a big deal, co-owner and Chicago Fire Lt. Frank Paolucci agreed it was an even greater honor when that state is the birthplace of the quintessential Chicago hot dog.
"It was a huge surprise," he said of being sent the website link by a fellow firefighter last Thursday.
Though happy to accept the accolade, Paolucci and business partner Jim Gritsonis are still taking it with a grain of (celery) salt.
"We know there's a lot of great hot dog places in Illinois," Paolucci said.
From what he read, Paolucci said he believes the winners in each state were determined by a matrix based on Yelp reviews. Being a relatively new business, it's likely there were more than the usual number of such reviews for Firehouse Dogs, he said.
Though not sure it's the one thing that put them over the top, Paolucci said one aspect they pay particular attention to every day is the fresh preparation of the condiments.
He gives all the credit to his staff and says he is grateful for the fantastic neighborhood and customers that came his way through a lead on a location that had sat vacant for 3½ years.
While Gritsonis already had restaurant experience, Paolucci was new to the industry apart from having cooked for his fellow Chicago firefighters for all 21 years of his career so far. The firefighting gear and mementos that help the restaurant live up to its name were largely from his own collection.
Both partners are lifelong Chicagoans who wanted to be true to the mom-and-pop businesses that have always given the city's neighborhoods their character, he said. They felt such a restaurant would be just as appreciated in the suburbs -- and now they know they were right.