BRIDGEPORT — It’s 11 a.m. on a Monday and Chef AJ’s Carryout isn’t technically even open yet.
Heavy rains caused a small roof leak, the prep work was running behind, and Chef AJ announced on Facebook that his small restaurant would be open a little late.
But that hasn’t stopped a slew of people and pets — a salmon delivery guy, a lady ordering a wedge salad, a dog named Daisy — from paying a visit to the storefront at 748 W. 35th St.
It's all in a morning's work for "Chef AJ" Rudis, a 38-year-old Lockport resident who doubles as a team chef for the Chicago White Sox.
The jobs have him splitting time between a cramped kitchen at U.S. Cellular Field and the slightly-less-cramped kitchen at his carryout business.
On a Sox game day, the carryout kitchen is the prep station for the meals he’ll prepare for upward of 50 team staffers, including the players, Sox security and other big shots.
He'll load up his small SUV and schlep the food about six blocks east to the ballpark, where pre-game meals might include burgers, a pasta bar, stir fry or steak sandwiches, while the post-game fare includes steak or seared tuna, usually two starches and always two vegetables.
The offerings are well received.
“Chef AJ’s dishes have become a staple of the White Sox clubhouse over the years,” Sox clubhouse manager Vince Fresso said. “Whether it is the pre- or postgame spread, players are big fans of his cooking.”
Those postgame meals are a hit for players, Rudis said, especially after night games when the options in Armour Square and Bridgeport are scarce.
And for day games with an early start, Rudis puts out a big breakfast spread: bacon, sausage, French toast, biscuits and gravy — the works.
It’s all a far cry from the old days.
“The old-timers say they got bologna and hot dogs. They’d collect concessions from the ballpark, and that’s what they’d eat,” Rudis said.
Rudis landed the Sox gig on a lark.
A childhood friend was a Sox bat boy who knew that Rudis, fresh from graduating Le Cordon Blue and from a stint with a suburban French restaurant, might’ve been looking for a gig.
That was 13 years ago, and he hasn’t looked back.
All the while, he’s running his two-year-old carryout business, where he just overhauled and simplified the menu that includes gourmet sandwiches, burgers, wraps, soups and salads, plus a revolving menu of daily specials.
Rudis will tell you that it's hard work now, but it was even more hectic before.
Before moving his business to Bridgeport, he cooked food for the Sox in shared kitchens that he'd rent in far-flung suburbs.
Timing everything just right became an art and science, and things usually ran smoothly — unless quick-working former Sox star Mark Buehrle was on the hill.
"When Buehrle used to pitch, every game was 30 minutes shorter than it should have been, so it would be a big mess for me," he said.