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CHICAGO (CBS) — The profile of a small, but notorious hot dog stand in the Lincoln Park neighborhood has risen to the point where it is now the subject of a reality TV show.
The Wieners Circle, 2622 N. Clark St., is a squat building with red picnic tables in front, dwarfed in the shadow by a four-story graystone building that once housed the Wrightwood Hotel directly to the south. It shares the block with an array of upscale tenants – including a wine bar.
But late nights, the Wieners Circle is the center of action on the block, and not just because of the Chicago-style hot dogs and char-broiled cheddarburgers. The hot dog stand had gained notoriety for the mutual verbal abuse traded between patrons and staff.
“I took an order, and I think the guy said, ‘Hey, you fat bitch, let me get a hot dog!’’” manager Roberta “Poochie” Jackson said on the “This American Life” TV series back in 2007. “That’s not my speech; I’m from the ’hood, so I said, ‘I’m fat? Your mama’s fat, m****rf***r!,’ and it just started from there.”
Even more infamously, customers are also known for requesting a certain item that is not actually on the menu, as code for female employees to lift up their shirts for the crowd as the lights begin to flicker.
The Wieners Circle was featured on the “This American Life” radio program back in 1996 and the short-lived TV version 11 year later. The hot dog stand was also featured on the Dave Attell “Insomniac” Show on Comedy Central, and “Extreme Fast Food” on the Travel Chanel.
But now, “Poochie” and her staff are now the subject of a six-episode reality TV show on TruTV, called what else but “The Wiener’s Circle,” which began this past Tuesday night.
The program features the typical mayhem at the Wieners Circle – which, despite the title of the show, does not have an apostrophe in its name. TruTV describes the staff as putting “the ‘cuss’ back in customer service.
But the show also features customers competing at “outrageously irreverent and hilariously embarrassing challenges, with free hot dogs, burgers and fries as a prize.”
For one example, one clip shows assistant manager Erika “Lady E” demonstrating the so-called “booty walk” for the customers, as Jackson offers the patrons a free T-shirt if they imitate her successfully.
The reality show features “Poochie,” Erika, and fellow staffers Yolanda, Kim and “fry guy” Johnny, along with owners Barry Nemerow and Larry Gold.
Gold explained on “This American Life” that the tradition of verbal abuse between staff and customers began in the early 1990s, when he called a drunk customer who was not paying attention an “a**hole” so the customer would pick up his order.
Critics of the venue have pointed out that the largely white customers at the hot dog stand have been known to grow hostile toward the mostly African-American staff.
Meanwhile, one critic has already pointed out that TruTV might not have done all their homework before promoting the show last week. Chicago Tribune TV critic Steve Johnson said the TruTV web site originally said the hot dog stand was on the South Side, although TruTV quickly corrected the error.