Enduring gyro

(First published in the April 18, 2019 issue of City Pages)

Papagalos Taste of Chicago faced some challenges with its opening—like running out of food because of high demand!


Papagalos owner Dennis Manthe preparing a gyro from the spit

There were some glitches back in early March when Dennis Manthe first opened Papagalos Taste of Chicago restaurant in the building that once housed the Hardee’s in Rothschild. Getting those gyros, Chicago-style hot dogs and hot Italian beef sandwiches into the hands of customers proved to be a tough task.

Manthe has owned and operated similar restaurants for 30 years but was surprised by the difficulties in trying to break the string of eateries and coffee shops that failed in that location near Shopko. One early glitch: He had mistakenly listed on Facebook the phone number for the restaurant he had just sold in Marshfield. So potential customers were getting a “number has been disconnected” message.

Manthe  hired employees. They either failed to even show up for training or quit after a few days. That left him so shorthanded that some customers in the drive-up (now closed) had to wait half an hour. On several days he had to close the whole place early.

A would-be diner one afternoon in mid-March found the place closed with a “ran out of food” sign on the door. That was actually a good problem, though. There were so many customers they were literally chewing up his inventory. That first week, “I ran out of food three times,” Manthe says. “I had hoped for a slow open, but I didn’t get that.”

Obviously there’s a demand on that stretch of road. He was selling as much food in a day in Rothschild as he had in a week in Marshfield. Prone to understatement, he says, “I’m well pleased with the community’s response.”

A man of multiple talents, Manthe has gone from managing a restaurant in Dubuque, Iowa, to repairing cars and later opening a restaurant in Marshfield, to once again focusing entirely on a restaurant. This menu is Chicago-based, he says. “On every street corner there, there is something similar to this.”

Papagalos uses all Chicago vendors for its meat and bread products. The Chicago-style hot dog has a bit of mystique of its own. It’s made with a Vienna beef dog on a poppy seed bun, and Manthe dresses it with mustard, chopped onion, relish, sliced tomato, sliced cucumber, a kosher dill pickle, celery salt and an option of peppers (hot, mild or sweet). Customers forego any of those vegetables, but Manthe likes when the person ordering knows the lingo and says, “Walk the dog through the garden.”

His gyros are made from a mixture of beef and lamb, cut off a traditional cone and served on pita bread. Co-starring on the sandwich are onions, tomatoes, tzatziki sauce, and vegetables called Chicago giardiniera.

The hot Italian beef sandwich has to have a Goenella Bakery roll drizzled with au jus sauce, shaved top-round roast beef marinated in that same sauce with vegetables he buys locally to ensure freshness. The menu also includes hamburgers, Polish sausage, chili dogs, combination sandwiches, salads, club sandwiches and a Carolina-style hot dog with chili and coleslaw.

Manthe could still use a few more people on staff but he’s got thing handled now and is happy to have assistant managers Brandon Lamping and Maryrose Pries. When the weather improves he wants to fix up the patio for outdoor dining. Papagalos is open 11 am–8 pm Monday through Saturday. He closes on Sundays so he can spend time with his three daughters and get to church.