MORGAN PARK — Conch, chicken wings and fried snapper served whole have replaced gyros, burgers and hot dogs at 11500 S. Western Ave. in Morgan Park.
The new tenant is the first of its kind in Chicago, according to Danny Maali. He brought the business up from Miami along with his brother, Kice. The pair also own the Frankfort Auto Exchange in southwest suburban Frankfort.
The brothers partnered with their cousins, Joe and David Maali. The Florida brothers learned the seafood business from family members who operate about 13 Snappers restaurants in and around Miami.
The grand opening drew a steady flow of customers.
"I was shocked," Danny Maali said. "They are loving the place."
Fried conch is one of the top sellers. The large shell fish is commonly found and served in Florida, but it was difficult to find in Chicago, Maali said.
In fact, the opening was delayed by 10 days while Snapper's supplier, Des Plaines-based Sysco Chicago Inc., secured a source for the meaty sea snails, said Marc Urban, the salesman working with the new restaurateurs.
"It's a pretty unique item," Urban said of the conch. It's currently being shipped to the restaurant from a supplier in Boston.
Urban also had to find a supplier for snapper — the restaurant's signature item. It's served whole and fried along with fries and a salad for $12.99.
Mariann Meenan, of suburban Alsip, jumped back as she saw the fish served from head to tail on Monday afternoon. Meenan was picking up some lunch just before her great-granddaughter arrived home from school.
"I had heard at Nicky's they opened up a new place, and it serves fish," said Meenan, who ordered the catfish and shrimp combo plate ($11.99).
She took an extra menu for her son who lives nearby and was impressed with a free sample of the conch.
"I prefer fish to meat. I'm not much of a carnivore," Meenan said.
Maali said it took three months to renovate the modest restaurant. The improvements included a new kitchen, dining area, parking lot along with a host of other upgrades and long-overdue repairs.
He said the menu was based on what's been successful in Miami. In about three to four months, Maali plans to re-evaluate the offerings, adding or eliminating items as demand dictates.
Maali also believes Snappers is well positioned to take advantage of traffic from the new Morgan Park Sports Center. The indoor ice rink and gymnastics facility at 11505 S. Western Ave. opened Sept. 1.
The owners aspire to open more Snappers locations in the Chicago area. Maali said he'll wait six months to see how the business shakes out before scouting more locations.
Still, he's confident that his cousins will make Snappers in Morgan Park a success.
"I think they are going to do great. I've been really happy with all of it," Maali said.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: