It used to be all about the hot dogs.
Forty-four years ago, in a town without , or , was the place to be in Highland Park.
Originally owned by Stan Jacobson, the restaurant, , began with a small menu focused on hot dogs and fries. It's held four locations in its nearly 50 years of existence, from the current location of to a trailer shared with a bakery.
"The lines were unbelievable," said Bobby Dubin, who bought the restaurant nearly 10 years ago. "That was the place for Highland Parkers."
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When Dubin took over, however, business wasn't what it used to be. A new hot dog place that offered more eclectic options like salads and gyros had opened nearby. To make matters worse, the former Stashs owners had tested their customers' loyalty by charging for extra ice and extra pickles and smoking cigarettes behind the counter.
The biggest problem, Dubin concluded, was the menu. It needed to be bigger.
"Today, in the city of Highland Park, you can't make it as a hot dog stand," Dubin said. "People want variety."
Dubin moved the restaurant to its current Second Street location in 2009 and began brainstorming. The results have been unveiled in the past year, first with the opening of the and, more recently, with the opening of the . The Enoteca serves up contemporary Italian food while the Bistro's focus is more American. Both menus are cooked with local, organic ingredients. Both operate out of Stashs' storefront for dinner.
Most importantly, -- an attempt by Dubin to offset the cost of going out for those still hurting from the recession.
"People are looking to save money," Dubin said.
During the day, the restaurant remains Stashs, and at night you can get Stashs to go from the restaurant's "classic" menu.
"Doing what we've done has created some confusion," Dubin admitted, "But the volume of the Bistro is really big."
Other restauranteurs around town are beginning to take note. Real Urban Barbecue owner , 48, who refilled ketchup and mustard bottles at Stashs when he was 11, praised Dubin's thoughtfulness.
"He found something that's working for him right now, and I think they're killing it," Shapiro said. "They found their niche."
The change in focus from Stashs to the Bistro and Enoteca are no more evident than in the details of next Tuesday's event. In addition to celebrating Stashs 44th anniversary, the event marks the grand opening of the Enoteca and the unveiling of the Bistro's spring menu.
"[Stashs is] just part of history," Dubin said. "People will come here because they know it but it won't be the main part of this business."
, who will be at Tuesday's celebration along with , is glad to see a restaurant has stuck around for so long, and praised Dubin's ability to change.
"We think it's wonderful to see how an established restaurant continues to evolve and grow," Glasner said, "Whether it's to meet changing times, changing tastes and maybe the changing landscape of the community."
Stashs will celebrate its 44th anniversary Tuesday, April 17 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
In the build up to , Patch is looking for Stashs stories, memories and photos from readers. Did you eat at Stashs growing up? What was it like? How have you seen it change? Leave your anecdotes in the comments or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.