River North’s Mr. Beef Deli has been serving Chicagoans beef sandwiches for thirty years. Its walls, decorated with old and new album covers, movie posters and autographed celebrity photos, testify to both its age and enduring popularity. In a much-publicized crisis, Mr. Beef is facing foreclosure. Unable to get a new line of credit “in these economic times,” the sandwich shop may be forced to shut its doors.
Today the crowd may be a bit thicker due to Mark DiPietro’s efforts to raise awareness about the plight of his favorite lunch spot. DiPietro showed up earlier to hand out fifty “Free Beef Sandwich” coupons and he also made a YouTube video about the stand.
That being said, the place has never been wanting for customers and the crowd is mostly made up of regulars who are here-as usual-for the sandwiches. “You have just got to dive in,” advises one regular to this newbie. “If your smell is not offensive to someone sitting next to you after you eat that sandwich, you didn’t eat it right.”
Such helpful advice is just as common as good-natured ribbing here at Mr. Beef. One customer, after misidentifying herself as the owner of a black Expedition in the parking lot (“No, you have a jeep,” loudly corrected her friend), must field jabs from the entire crowd. “You are a blonde,” someone snickers between bites.
Mr. Beef’s builds camaraderie just as surely as it does artery blockage. “I could almost have another right now,” says a diner as he balls up his sauce-soaked tissue paper. (Meaghan Strickland)