After working more than 80-hour weeks for two years straight, Joel Albright decided to take a break.
Albright, 51, announced Nov. 7 he’s permanently shuttered Smokey Joel’s Red Hots, a hot dog stand near the Park District of Forest Park headquarters and aquatic center.
“It’s been a great two seasons and it’s been a pleasure to meet all of you,” he wrote to the restaurant’s nearly 350 Facebook fans. “The decision was not an easy one, believe me. The main element is time.”
Albright said he works about 60-hours weekly as a service advisor at Elmhurst BMW dealership. During lunch breaks, he said he would visit the grocery store and stock up on food and other supplies.
Then, during spring and summer weekends, he would spend 20-hours grilling Vienna beef franks, sausages and roasting Italian beef.
“It was successful, it made money,” he said of the stand. But “I compromised a lot of personal time that I need to spend with family and friends.”
Albright said he always dreamed of opening a hot dog stand. When he was 23 years old, a church friend who worked at a restaurant in O’Hare Airport offered him the opportunity to rent a hot dog cart.
Albright jumped at the chance. He attached the hot dog cart to the back of his car, towed it to Rosemont and sold dogs in cab and limousine parking lots.
“That planted the seed a little bit,” he said.
Later in life, Albright attended Vienna’s Hot Dog University, where he completed a two-day course on how to properly steam buns and grill franks. Then, in March 2016, Albright realized his dream: He turned on the neon Vienna Beef Hot Dog sign at 810 Beloit Ave., and opened his door to Forest Park.
His nephew, Drew, helped out around the shop. Albright listened to customers. This June, he started talking with suppliers of vegetarian hot dogs because locals asked about them, despite veggie dogs being against his personal beliefs. But, Albright was busy.
In early August, he solicited applications for someone to help out around the stand. On Aug. 24, he stopped opening the stand on Friday nights. Then on Oct. 11, he closed for the season, nearly two months earlier than he closed the year before.
“It was fun and everything and I had a blast, it’s just the wrong time to do it,” Albright said.
When asked about whether he’d ever open a hot dog business again, Albright didn’t rule it out. He said Connie Brown, owner of Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, and Pat O’Brien, chef and owner of Scratch Kitchen, were big supporters who helped him open his first place.
“The hot dog business is pretty fun,” he said. “It’s not pretentious. It’s very simple; it’s almost a novelty thing. People are always in a good mood when they eat hot dogs or Italian beef.”