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BIG and Little's New Lakeview Shop Will Break Location's Curse, Owners Say

By Serena Dai | November 22, 2013 7:06am
 Tony "little" D'Alessandro and Gary "BIG" Strauss own BIG and Little's, a River North diner that will be opening a location in Lakeview in 2014.
Tony "little" D'Alessandro and Gary "BIG" Strauss own BIG and Little's, a River North diner that will be opening a location in Lakeview in 2014.
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LAKEVIEW — Tony "little" D'Alessandro and Gary "BIG" Strauss don't believe in curses. 

But if it's true that 1034 W. Belmont Ave., future home to a second location of their River North diner BIG and little's, is actually cursed, they will buck the trend, they said.

Many restaurants have failed at the corner of Belmont and Kenmore in past years, most recently Indie Burger, which closed last month, and people have told Big and little of its woes. 

"I guarantee you we'll break that curse," D'Alessandro said. "We came from nothing and built a location in the middle of nowhere. Our good food brought the customers."

Four years ago, the two best friends, who met at Ogden Elementary School years ago, decided to open a restaurant in the former Cabrini Green area. They didn't have a "single dime" to spend on advertising, D'Alessandro said.

But BIG and little's, known for its fish tacos and soft shell crab po' boys, slowly brought in a regular crowd anyway. Soon, a new location at 860 N. Orleans St. caught the attention of food TV hosts.

Guy Fieri stopped by for "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." Food Network's "Mystery Diners" filmed there, as did local shows like "Check Please!" on WTTW. Now, many of the diners at BIG and little's are from around the world, D'Alessandro said.

"People are coming in from Dubai, France, Italy, saying 'I saw you on TV,'" he said. "We have fans in Asia."

But the two friends are Chicago men at heart. When the opportunity came to open the Lakeview location, they decided to go to turn it into a neighborhood joint, one with more families and fewer tourists.

The menu will be the same but cheaper than the $2.50 to $15 items at the River North location due to lower rents in Lakeview.

"We want to capture the audience that lives around there," D'Alessandro said. "We want to make it fun and enjoyable. We really want people to think twice about spending money on food."

Chef Brandon Nequist, who's been with BIG and little's from early on, will be running the Lakeview shop, which will be BYOB. In the summer, the restaurant will add outdoor seating. 

They plan to open the new BIG and little's in January. Even if the location is cursed, as some say.

"We don't believe in curses," Strauss said. "We opened in the middle of Cabrini Green, with no walking traffic, and look where we're at now."