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Ketchup on a Hot Dog Earns the 'Bells of Shame' at 35th Street Red Hots

By  Justin Breen and Jackie Kostek | March 14, 2014 7:07am 

Ketchup Bell of Shame
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DNAinfo/Jackie Kostek

BRIDGEPORT — Well before he made the order, Sam Duran knew what would be required.

"I don't like ringing the bell, but I understand why I have to do it," Duran said.

Duran was referring to the "Ketchup Bell's of Shame" at 35th Street Red Hots, a small hot dog stand a stone's throw west of U.S. Cellular Field at 500 W. 35th St. that shares an owner with the Weiners Circle in Lincoln Park and the Redhot Ranch stands in Lakeview and Logan Square.

The restaurant has been open for about nine years, and for the last three, anyone who asks for a hot dog with ketchup — one of Chicago's biggest no-no's — must ring the bells.

"It's embarrassing," said Duran, who made his usual order — two hot dogs with ketchup only — before rattling the bells.

 At 35th Street Red Hots near U.S. Cellular Field, those who order ketchup on their hot dogs must ring the "Ketchup Bells of Shame."
Ketchup Bells of Shame
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The idea for the bells was the collaborative effort of manager Orlando Gonzalez and prep cook Frederick Lemus. In 2011, they wanted to poke fun at customers who requested the condiment for their dogs. Gonzalez bought a pair of $2 bells at a secondhand store, tied them to some red-and-blue string from a work apron and hung them in the tiny restaurant's southeast corner.

"We like to mess around with people," said Gonzalez, 40, of Brighton Park and a Wells High School graduate. "When you have a good experience with the customers, it makes them want to come back."

Any hot dog with ketchup sold at 35th Street Red Hots is considered a "Cubbie Dog," because Gonzalez and Lemus, who have 14 combined years at the restaurant, both said 90 percent of the people who order them are Cubs fans.

"When they order ketchup, we'll ask them what team they cheer for, and it's almost always the Cubs," said Lemus, 23, a Curie High School alumnus and Little Village resident. Lemus added that most customers are, not surprisingly, White Sox supporters.

The "Cubbie Dog" isn't on the menu, which features only a handful of items, like Vienna Beef hot dogs and Polish sausage, hand-cut fries and fried shrimp.

"People ask for coffee, gyros, burgers, beef, and we have to tell them it's just a hot dog stand," Gonzalez said.

Even the hot dog toppings are basic: mustard, onions, relish and hot peppers. There are no pickles, tomatoes or celery salt offered.

Ketchup, of course, is available, but only for those willing to ring the bells — or at least put up a fight protesting. Lemus said customers occasionally have refused to chime the bells, and still were granted ketchup, although begrudgingly.

"Most of the people will ring them," said Lemus, who, when he first started working five years ago asked customers to do a small dance for the ketchup topping. "People will do anything to get ketchup on their hot dog."

On Thursday, Duran, who helps build and refurbish parks for the Chicago Park District, was ready for his moment of "shame."

"I get it ... because who orders ketchup on their hot dog?" Duran said. "Even my wife tells me, 'What are you doing, that's for little kids.'"

35th Street Red Hots is normally open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays; and closed Sundasy. If the White Sox are playing, the restaurant will close about an hour after the game's conclusion, and it will be open on Sundays if there's a game.