It’s easy to spot Superdawg Drive-In in the distance as you drive along Milwaukee Avenue nearing Devon: Two 12-foot-tall hot dogs — Maurie, a muscular, circus-style strongman, and his sweetheart Flaurie, her sausage crown topped with a big blue bow — glow like beacons from their rooftop perch.
These two weenies have been surveying the cars that pull in and out of this classic carport-style drive-in since 1948 when Superdawg was a cruisin’ hotspot. Made of paper mache wrapped around a chicken-wire frame, their insides are still stuffed with the original newspapers.
“Their eyes don’t just blink; they wink at each other adoringly,” said Scott Berman, son of Maurie and Florence “Flaurie” Berman, the real-life figures behind Superdawg’s delightful, crowning statues.
Today, Scott Berman co-owns the drive-in with his sister, Lisa Drucker, and her husband, Don Drucker, a trio you’re bound to see on site, taking orders from the always buzzing, circa 1954 switchboard or assembling Superdawgs. (Maurie Berman died in 2015. Florence Berman died in 2018.)
Superdawg Drive-In is celebrating its 75th birthday on Tuesday.
There are hundreds of places in the city where you can find an authentic Chicago-style hot dog, nothing beats driving into Superdawg on a summer night. Yes, you can place your order indoors at the counter. But there’s nothing like pulling into one of the carports, rolling down your window, placing your order via the vintage menu speaker box, and waiting for a carhop to clip the resulting tray of food to your window. Translation: delectable hot dogs, hand-cut fries, and rich Supermalts, all from the comfort of your car.
The Superdawg experience is a journey back in time.It’s a story that began in the hallways of Von Steuben High School, where Maurie Berman and Florence (“Flaurie”) fell in love. Maurie belonged to the RAMS, and Flaurie the JUGS (Just Us Girls) — two social clubs that sponsored softball games and dances. The couple attended prom together before Maurie was drafted and served in WWII, in Normandy, France, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, and later, driving an ammunitions truck, while Flaurie attended Northwestern University, where she studied education.
When Maurie came home in the summer of 1946, Flaurie was already working as a substitute teacher at Chicago public elementary schools. They married in August 1947.
Despite zero experience in the restaurant business, in May 1948, the young newlyweds opened a summer-only hot dog stand to finance Maurie’s accounting degree at Northwestern. Inspired by popular superheroes of the 1940s, they named their stand Superdawg.
Many GIs returning from WWII opened small food businesses housed in prefab trailers. These early “drive-ins” immediately found success thanks to plentiful gas and the newfound joy of dining from the comfort of a car. “Your car becomes our dining room” was one of Superdawg Drive-In’s many catchy slogans.
With their business soon booming, the Bermans shifted from teaching and accounting and focused their efforts on Superdawg. Their first step was to move from summer-only to year-round service. Their second step was to coat the rooftop Maurie and Flaurie statues with fiberglass, so they wouldn’t have to be carted indoors during the snowy Chicago winter months.
“Our dad was forward-thinking,” said Lisa Drucker. “He wanted his business to be housed not in a stand, or prefab trailer, but in a brick-and-mortar building.”
The cinderblock, 12-foot-by-20-foot structure at 6363 N. Milwaukee Avenue is the same building we know and love today; its kitchen is the footprint of the original. The sky blue portion of the building was added in 1954 to mimic O’Hare Airport’s traffic control tower.
“Dad wanted it to be a beacon,” explained Lisa. “The electronic ordering system installed in 1954 was state-of-the-art, and everyone relished its beautiful blue glow at night. Even today, the central carport ordering system sits under that bright blue beacon.”
Maurie added even more pizazz in the form of Harlequin diamonds, an architectural element popular during the 1940s and ’50s, and flat, horizontal Roman-style bricks.
The couple, however, kept the focus on the quality of the food, consistency and customer service.
“The Superdawg is great by its nature,” said Lisa. “They’re larger than most hot dogs you’ll find across Chicagoland and made by a private manufacturer to the exact specifications of our proprietary recipe. You can only get a Superdawg at Superdawg. The Superdawg is a premium product [that comes] complete with fresh-cut fries, and high-quality condiments, and served in our signature packaging — our Superdawg box. Even our Supershakes and Supermalts are made with high-butterfat ice cream, and we only use real fruit and the finest flavorings.”
The current menu is almost identical to the original, save for three newer additions: The Superchick, a char-broiled chicken sandwich; the Whoopskidawg, a char-broiled version of a Romanian-Hungarian-Polish sausage; and Superchickenmidgees, breaded-and-fried chicken nuggets.
The crinkle-cut fries are still made from potatoes delivered fresh and hand-cut every day. Maurie Berman designed a custom potato crinkle-cutter, perhaps the first of its kind, to ensure that the fries are extra-crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. He also designed a Superdawg assembly station that makes it possible to prepare a Superdawg precisely to order in a flash.
“Other people were wrapping their hot dogs and burgers in wax paper,” said Don Drucker. “Maurie and Flaurie came up with the box, where the Superdawg can ‘lounge inside, contentedly cushioned in Superfries.’ Our box today is very close to the original and still includes all the pre-printed condiments on the box, so you’re sure to receive your exact order and know whose is whose. And they’re beautifully designed because as you pop the box open, the steam escapes the vents, but the warmth remains.”
“Drive-ins are exceedingly rare today, and we’re the only one in Chicago,” notes Scott Berman. “We work with a national company that services and repairs the ever-shrinking drive-in community.”
Today, Maurie and Flaurie’s three kids and six grandkids run the show, with granddaughter Laura Ustick managing Superdawg’s larger, suburban Wheeling location, which opened in 2010.
“My earliest memories are of the original ‘take your kids to work day,’ which for us was all the time,” said Lisa. “I learned my letters and numbers here.”
“We have several long-term team members who have been with us for over two decades,” said Scott. “The current longest-serving staff member has been on our team for 28 years. So, our employees are like family. They’ve known me and my children for their entire lives. Our longest-tenured employee was our long-time manager (the late Harold Kennett), who was with us for 37 years. His wife (Marie) was our bookkeeper, and they met at Superdawg.”
Until he died at age 89 in 2015, Maurie Berman was still actively involved in day-to-day business operations. Flaurie, who died in 2018 at age 92, sat in the switchboard tower and sat and took orders even in her final years, always greeting customers with her cheeriest “Hiya! Thanks for stopping.”
Superdawg has become a place where families make memories. “People who ate with us in the ’40s and ’50s now bring their kids and grandkids,” said Scott.
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), officially entered the Superdawg anniversary into the Congressional Record, praising the Berman family’s dedication to their customers, “setting them apart from other fast-food establishments,” he wrote in the official entry remarks and noting how in 2010 he “spent the day working at Superdawg as part of my Undercover Congressman series” learning “how to make the famous Superdawg and gained an inside-look into what has made them so successful.”
“75 years…. it’s just a number,” said Lisa Drucker, “but most people don’t make it to 75, let alone keep a family business alive and well for 75 years. I thought of it today when I was buying birthday candles. The secret to my parent’s marriage and Superdawg’s success is love. It might sound trite, but their devotion and respect for one another were the key to Superdawg’s success. They worked side by side for most of their lives. My husband Don and I work side by side today. If you really love someone, it’s a wonderful way to spend a life together.”
On May 9, 39th Ward Ald. Samantha Nugent will unveil an honorary street sign, “Maurie & Flaurie Berman Way” outside the restaurant. The public event takes place at 2 p.m.