Dodo & Dino’s: The Survival of Breakfast
Anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry can tell you that the very nature of the business is chaos on the brink of disaster at any given moment. From ownership to bus boys, there’s always some crippling problem lurking and it only takes one bad run to dissatisfy your customer base and extinguish the already narrow profit margin. Despite this known fact, people are often shocked when a vibrant popular restaurant suddenly closes. They’re also shocked when that trusted, standby mom and pop place shuts down after all these years (sure you haven’t been there in awhile but you didn’t think they’d actually close). So it’s fitting that two breakfast joints, Dodo and Dino’s Morgan Inn, have found new life as a merged split personality diner, combining two very different customer basis and two very different legacies.
Fans of the breakfast spot Dodo were hurled into confusion and panic in 2006 when their location at 957 N. Damen (now home to the breakfast spot Jam) was abruptly closed despite raving reviews of their food. Sure, it was always stifling hot in there with a tiny space and no AC, and yes I made frequent trips to the depressing Ukranian bar next door to use their ATM after I always forgot Dodo was cash only, but the food made it worth it. Small culinary deviations on breakfast classics kept the place crowded and happy despite all the issues their location presented both their staff and their customers. Yet it wasn’t enough and then poof, they were gone.
Meanwhile, Dino’s Morgan Inn was only a neighborhood away but existed in a very different world of customers, food and problems. Long before fancy Publican or Fulton Lounge moved in down the street, Dino’s was the essential eatery in the Fulton meat packing district. They were a simple griddle diner, a model often found in Chicago’s traditional working districts, dishing out $3 burgers and morning beers for the truck drivers and workers getting off the late shift. When there are more forklifts than cars parked in front of your establishment then you’re not exactly catering to the more affluent occupants of the West Loop. But Morgan’s Inn had done just fine for 55 years when Dino bought the place and carried it through for another 25. Then poor Dino passed on and another vestige of Chicago’s blue collar industry seemed doomed.
But fate can play some nifty tricks and if ever there’s a business model that requires creativity and flexibility it’s the restaurant. Dodo was all set to move into Dino’s space, but there was likely hesitation to bring okonomiyaki pancakes and jarlsburg omelets to a joint traditionally frequented by men in blood spattered white coats. And so a compromise was devised, a two-faced Jekyl & Hyde dinner that serves the cheap eats and beers required on the weekdays while rolling out the return of Dodo on the weekends. Dino’s has had its interior spruced up, getting a nice dusting of cute to its simplistic digs. While Dodo now has air conditioning and accepts credit cards, catering to the residential lofts and condos with its same lineup of skilled chefs.
The concept is rather genius I think. While you might assume your local breakfast outfit does great business because it’s slammed on a Sunday morning, you tend to forget that most people are forgoing Wednesday waffles for a simple yogurt or breakfast bar at home. This represents the perfect marriage for the purveyor of dawn dishes, a metaphor for the average Chicagoan. A place that rolls up its sleeves as a no-frills, hard working greasy spoon only to slow down and delve into its passion when the hustle and bustle has dispersed. Dodo has become a living organism of the food world, reflecting the needs of our strange recession and proving that success and survival is typically born from compromise. It’s a lesson we can order on the side with our breakfast skillet, making it a tasty lesson at that.