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Breakfast and BBQ Diner Planned for Bridgeport ... If Fundraising Works

By Casey Cora | May 3, 2013 8:22am

BRIDGEPORT — Barbecue and breakfast, 24 sticky-fingered hours a day.

Sound good?

A couple wants to make it happen in Bridgeport. But they're going to need a lot of help and money - $75,000 to be exact, raised over the course of 30 days through a crowdfunding site.

"We will do it. Not a problem," said Neller Hamlin, a restaurant industry manager who's hoping to open a diner called RaeAnne's in Bridgeport.

Here's what Hamlin, of Gurnee, and her fiance-slash-business partner Leo Polanco envision: a 1950s style diner stocked with nostalgic kitsch and serving breakfast, baked goods and barbecue all day long.

"It will be diner-style food, revved up," said Hamlin.

That'll mean classics like meatloaf, from-scratch mashed potatoes, BLTs and turkey clubs together on the menu with pulled pork sandwiches, waffles topped with bacon and "breakfast fries," a pile of fresh cut fries topped with cheddar, bacon, pulled pork, fried eggs and gravy.

She said the restaurant will cure their own corned beef, smoke their own bacon and pork and make its barbecue sauce with maple syrup, Coke and coffee — "things you'd find at a diner," Hamlin said.

Hamlin, 36, is a Kendall college graduate, a mom, a professional caterer and a serious home baker — she took First Place at Lake County Fair competition with her triple chocolate caramel cookies.

Last year, she finished a barbecue class outside Dallas and helped open a chain of the Dickey's Barbecue Pit restaurant in Wisconsin.

But running her own place has been a lifelong goal, so she's been creating a menu and scouting locations for her dream restaurant for about the past year.

Polanco, of Bridgeport, thinks the diner could serve as a new neighborhood staple, filled with cops from the nearby Deering District headquarters, late-night workers from the UIC Medical District and families from across South Side. 

"This is kind of the perfect price point for the neighborhood and middle class families. We don't need fanciness," he said.

But what they do need is cash to renovate the building, located along busy Halsted Street.

Their plans call for a complete rehab of the empty office space, complete with a long diner counter, a small soda fountain-style bar and booths with seating for up to 80 diners. That's not including the planned outdoor patio.

To raise money, they'll turn to IndieGoGo, sweetening the deal for donors with rewards ranging from sandwiches to full out "barbecue burlesque" parties.

To raise interest in raising money, they're planning an all-out guerilla marketing blitz that includes handing out pulled pork sliders at train stations and street fests. The pair said they've already gotten interest in partnering with Bridgeport Coffee Company and Logan Square's Bang Bang Pie Shop.

But it all starts with the fundraising effort. They plan to launch their crowdfunding page within two weeks, raise all of the money within a month, obtains the required permits and licenses and open their doors by August.

It's a tall order, but one they're confident they'll fill.

"We know we can do it. We can be successful," Hamlin said. "We're going to make it happen no matter what."