LAKEVIEW — Popular River North diner BIG and little's new Lakeview location tried to open quietly on Valentine's Day as a soft opening, but the neighborhood wouldn't have any of it.
Over the weekend, hundreds of people went into the new 1034 W. Belmont Ave. restaurant — with more than 800 orders placed over Saturday and Sunday alone, said Omar Cadena, the front-of-house manager.
More than 20 people even had repeat visits, with some stopping in on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, he said.
"Just the overwhelming amount of love and support has been an extremely beautiful thing," Cadena said. "It's amazing. Never in my 10-plus years of being in the restaurant business have I seen anything like it."
Cadena and chef Brandon Nequist run the Lakeview outpost of Tony "little" D'Alessandro and Gary "BIG" Strauss's restaurant.
They didn't advertise the opening, hoping to train the staff and work out the restaurant's kinks before an official grand opening, which they plan to hold in the next week or so, Cadena said.
Cadena and the staff thought "a few floaters" would drop in, at most.
"We had no idea that this would happen," he said.
The diner is known for its affordable fish tacos and soft-shell crab po' boys. Its River North location at 860 N. Orleans St. quickly caught the attention of neighbors and television hosts four years ago, including Guy Fieri, who featured it on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives."
BIG and little's Lakeview storefront, which is painted bright yellow and blue on the outside with the restaurant's logo, is notorious for being a cursed location for restaurants — even well-reviewed ones like Indie Burger.
But D'Alessandro and Strauss promised they'd break any alleged curse, and if the restaurant's soft opening weekend is any proof, they may just be right.
BIG and little Lakeview opens at 11 a.m. daily and closes at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Friday and Saturday hours are still being worked out, Cadena said, though the goal is to stay open as late as possible.
Eventually, the Lakeview location will add delivery service.