It’s hard to miss Norm Rubin’s restaurant. Across the street from the Galleria shopping mall in Sherman Oaks, Calif., an authentic 17-foot-high section of Chicago’s famous El railway stretches below the San Diego freeway. From the 38-foot-long span hangs a red neon sign that flashes RUBIN’S RED HOT. A giant billboard underneath the transplanted piece of rail shows a giant wiener with the works and touts Rubin’s drive-through hot dog stand as “The Place For Red Hot Lovers.”
Rubin’s is also a place for Windy City natives who, like the owner, hunger for a taste of home. His corrugated-steel hot dog stand is Rubin’s tribute to one of his hometown’s culinary specialties. (At last count, more than 3,000 hot dog stands dotted Chicago.) Rubin, 60, built his 560-square-foot restaurant a year ago for $750,000 and even imported a $20,000 kiosk from Paris with newspapers and magazines for his customers.
But frankly, Rubin gets more plumped up about the eats. There’s the Chicago Polish dog and the veal bratwurst, but according to the L.A. Times the “best thing—and it really is good,” is the $2.90 Big Red. “I wanted to go back to my roots,” says Rubin, who ships his dogs in from (where else?) Chicago and sells over 1,400 pounds in a good month. “I wanted this to be authentic. This is out of my past.”
Rubin, an ex-vice president at MCA Studios who moved to L.A. in 1949, relished the idea of starting up a small business, and in 1984 he and Dave Lynch, an L.A. restaurant manager, cooked up the idea of an upscale hot dog stand. Three years later a relative back in Chicago told Rubin a three-block section of the old El was being torn down. Rubin knew he had to look no further for his restaurant’s motif. After the first section was inadvertently melted down by an Illinois junkyard, he and his son Sam, 26, personally escorted the remaining stretch by train to L.A. Now Rubin looks up at the piece of long black steel and says with all the pride he can muster, “McDonald’s has the arches and we got the El.”