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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — How far would you drive for a hot dog and chili fries?
If you’re one of Jameel Saqri’s customers, maybe pretty far.
Saqri’s Wienerschnitzel/Tastee- Freez restaurant in Champaign — with its signature A-frame roof and red-and-yellow color scheme — is the only place in the Midwest to get Wienerschnitzel’s fare.
In fact, it’s pretty much the lone Wienerschnizel outpost in about half the U.S., with no locations at all east of Illinois, according to The News-Gazette of Champaign.
Saqri said he’s gotten used to customers telling him and his staff they drove hours to get there.
“Most of the customers who come in here, they tell us a story,” he said.
And some stock up while they’re in town. Customers will come in and buy 50 to 100 hot dogs to take home and freeze, plus cans of the chain’s chili sauce, said Saqri’s son, Thair, who helps his dad in the restaurant and is also working on an advanced degree to become a nurse practitioner.
Not everybody calls ahead to say they’ll be coming in for a lot of food, Thair Saqri said, but “we’re always prepared for that.”
“We have a family that drives here once a year for dinner from Kentucky,” he said.
Once, a man flew into Willard Airport in a private jet to buy Wienerschnitzel chili dogs for his dying father who used to live in Champaign, he said.
Stories like these aren’t uncommon for Wienerschnitzel locations, said Glenda Vaquerano, spokeswoman for The Galardi Group, the parent company of Wienerschnitzel, Hamburger Stand and Tastee-Freez.
“We get that a lot,” she said. “We have a lot of hardcore fans.”
With the exception of this lone Wienerschnitzel in Illinois, all other locations are clustered in nine other states in the West and South — Arizona, California, Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Washington.
The next closest location? Either Baton Rouge, La., or a cluster in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, each about 800 miles away.
Founded in 1961 in Southern California, Wienerschnitzel calls itself the world’s largest hot dog chain. It currently has 330 locations and serves over 120 million hot dogs a year.
The Champaign location has been around since 1971, according to Thair Saqri.