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Despite losses, Chicago relishes its hot dogs

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In this May 7, 2014 photo, local tube steak aficionados and those from around the country line up outside Hot Doug’s, a gourmet hot dog diner in Chicago. Owner Doug Sohn announced that he is shutting the doors of his “sausage superstore” in October after nearly 14 years for no other reason than he felt like it was time to move on. In a city long known for its love of hot dogs, this was news nobody relished. The establishment has become a must-stop destination for both locals and wiener fans from around the country. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

In this May 7, 2014 photo, local tube steak aficionados and those from around the country line up outside Hot Doug’s, a gourmet hot dog diner in Chicago. Owner Doug Sohn announced that he is shutting the doors of his “sausage superstore” in October after nearly 14 years for no other reason than he felt like it was time to move on. In a city long known for its love of hot dogs, this was news nobody relished. The establishment has become a must-stop destination for both locals and wiener fans from around the country. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

In this May 7, 2014 photo, Hot Doug’s owner, Doug Sohn takes an order as local customers and out-of-towners line up outside his gourmet hot dog diner in Chicago. Sohn announced he’s shutting the doors of his “sausage superstore” in October after nearly 14 years for no other reason than he felt like it was time to move on. It was bad news for locals and fans from around the country have turned the diner into a must-stop destination. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

In this May 7, 2014 photo, a cook at Hot Doug’s cooks orders for customers at the gourmet hot dog diner in Chicago. Owner Doug Sohn announced he’s shutting the doors of his “sausage superstore” in October after nearly 14 years for no other reason than he felt like it was time to move on. It was bad news for the locals that wait an hour to get inside and wiener fans from around the country have turned the diner into a must-stop destination. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

In this May 7, 2014 photo, an employee at Hot Doug’s prepares to deliver orders for customers at the hot dog diner in Chicago. Owner Doug Sohn announced he is closing the diner in October after nearly 14 years. It wasn’t good news for both locals and wiener fans from around the country who have turned the diner into a must-stop destination. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

In this May 7, 2014 photo, Doug Sohn, owner Hot Doug’s, takes an order from John Schmidt, a local tube steak aficionado at the gourmet hot dog diner in Chicago. Sohn announced this week that he is closing the doors of his “sausage superstore” in October after nearly 14 years for no other reason than he felt like it was time to move on. In a city long known for its love of hot dogs, this was news nobody relished. The popular diner is is ones locals wait an hour to get inside and wiener fans from around the country have turned into a must-stop destination. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

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CHICAGO (AP) — In a city known for its love of both eating and bragging about its hot dogs, this was news nobody relished: Gourmet stand Hot Doug’s, known for serving up options made of rattlesnake and yak, is closing. And the owner of another local hot dog institution, Portillo’s, is thinking of selling.

Doug Sohn’s announcement this week that he’s closing his “sausage superstore” in October after more than 13 years — saying only that it was time to move on — triggered an outpouring of distress. And taking inspiration from Green Bay, where fans own the Packers football team, some Portillo’s devotees have called on others to band together to buy the chain of 38 restaurants, most in the Chicago area.

“When I heard (Hot Doug’s) was closing, it was heartbreaking,” said Lakhi Siap, 25, a community organizer whose place in line there put him maybe an hour from ordering.

If it all seems a bit extreme, it makes sense in Chicago. The city’s love affair with hot dogs dates back to 1893, when visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition gobbled up the odd-looking sandwiches by the thousands, and industry experts say sales remain steady. An estimated 200,000 are sold in the Chicago area a week, according to Timothy O’Brien, co-president of Chicago-based Vienna Beef.

“The hot dog is a symbol of Chicago,” said Peter Alter, archivist at the Chicago History Museum, which features a giant plastic bun where kids can lie down like a frank and cover themselves in fake relish, mustard, pickles and the rest of what gives a hot dog its Chicago style.

The food is also a connection to the past of both the city and its residents.

“My grandfather took my dad to Portillo’s and my dad took me there,” said Eric Holtrop, a banker who supports what he and others acknowledge is the longest of long shot efforts to buy the half century-old business. “What if a bunch of Chicagoans pull together?”

The owner of Portillo’s has suggested he’s considering selling to capitalize on the brand’s popularity.

Sohn’s Hot Doug’s, meanwhile, is important for another reason, said Bruce Kraig, a historian, hot dog expert and co-author of “Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America.”

“He was on the cutting edge of turning hot dogs into a kind of cuisine, a kind of fine dining,” said Kraig.

Even if Sohn didn’t invent the upscale hot dog, he was in the room when they started making them out of rattlesnake (Siap’s favorite), kale and walnut pork sausage (one of Wednesday’s specials), and foie gras (an ingredient that netted Sohn a $500 citation

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