As Big Box stores and restaurant chains lock their doors on a daily basis, it makes you wonder if they couldn’t learn something from people like Mickey and Ann Sangiacomo who, with a little money and a lot of hard work, put their hot dog stand in the Vienna Hall of Fame… and their children on the road to success. Mickey Sr. didn’t rely on overpaid real estate consultants to help him choose the location at 635 Mannheim Road in Bellwood in 1959. In fact, the parcel he envisioned as a used car lot was nothing more than a vacant piece of property surrounded by an empty field, another empty field and railroad tracks.
Licensing problems and a little buyer’s remorse kept Mickey from driving his dream to the suburbs, but it opened the door for his wife, who, while raising the first two of their four children — Mickey Jr. and Annette — had been working on Maxwell Street on weekends to make extra money. The old A&W shack that Jimmy bought on Mannheim Road in Bellwood may have stalled as a car lot but it was perfect for the woman who was often inspired by Taylor Street’s food and lemonade vendors and dreamed of having her own hot dog cart.
Naming the business after her husband and launching it with help from a neighbor and friend, Jimmy Faruggia of the Original Jimmy’s Hot Dogs, Ann got busy doling out hot dogs, fries and a drink combos for just 37 cents. A tin cookie can served as her cash register and a jar on the side collected coins to pay the taxes. “We really roughed it,” said Annette Martens, the oldest of the Sangiacomo children.
When Mickey’s Drive-In opened on May 5, 1959, Annette was 14 and Mickey Jr. wasn’t far behind, but Al was only 3-1/2 and Frank, the youngest, was just 6 months old and napped under the counter. Ann Sangiacomo put in 16-18 hour days with her children literally by her side. Mickey Jr. and Annette, with help from their aunt, worked the counter after school. “There were no paychecks then,” said Mickey, who looks back on the series of cycles and changes the business went through over the last half-century.
Ann’s idea, work ethic and success prompted the family to branch out and try several other locations over the years: one on Cass and Ogden, another at 53rd and Maple and yet another at Adams and Des Plaines in the city. Mickey Jr. operated his own store in Addison for nearly 30 years before closing and Annette is still going strong at her Villa Park site. For Al Sangiacomo, now an attorney, the failed locations were not exactly unsuccessful. “We just can’t teach other people how to do what we did exactly the way we did it. Others have done great with it, but not us. We’re too hands-on and have never been able to make that transition.”
And the Sangiacomo family is comfortable with that realization — it is an observation that has contributed to their longevity. The groundwork firmly established by their mother has proven to be their port in the storms of changing economic times, tremendous competition, including franchises that utilize internet and high-tech service.
Mickey Jr. believes that customers have always appreciated seeing the food being made and not wondering what they’re getting or what would be in the bag when they got home. For Annette, doing what her mother always did, having one person take, make, bring and ring the order was an integral part of customer satisfaction and loyalty.
As for Frank, his mother instilled in him to do whatever it takes. “Whatever it is, just do it. If you have to mop the floor, mop it. That’s why we’re still here. We never forgot what our mother taught us and marking our 52nd year is as much a tribute to her as it is a celebration for our customers. We’re not going anywhere. This is what we do and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people who have patronized us — a lot of people. In fact, generations of people.”
Al couldn’t agree more. “I believe a lot of our customers appreciate the continuity of people who run the place. One of us is always here and our staff has been amazing. Like extended family.” Mayor Frank Pasquale is especially proud that Mickey’s is located in his community. “Mickey’s is a cornerstone of Bellwood and they’ve shown staying power, that’s for sure. I’m especially impressed with how they’ve carried on the tradition of their mother, of their commitment to the Village and their excellent product and personal service,” he says.
The family can’t help but look back at times, especially at their 30th anniversary when a 25 cent hot dog promotion resulted in a 12-hour line around the corner down St. Paul Avenue; news coverage from Channels 2, 5 and 7; emergency Vienna Beef and bakery deliveries; and 14,000 hot dogs and 6,000 drinks sold by day’s end. Few things have changed since Ann Sangiacomo signed for her loan. There are still no tables or chairs and no website and Mickey Jr. still makes the meatballs and cooks the beef.
“This is the true definition of a successful mom and pop store,” insists Frank. “This place is a piece of Americana. The American dream lives right here.”
Check out the Mickey’s Facebook page or call 547-7866 for hours and directions.