While at the Popeil exhibit last week, I was reintroduced to a Maxwell St Preservation activist. I met him about 6 years ago at a meeting where he talked about preserving Maxwell St. He later conducted a tour, which allowed me to see the backrooms to Jim's Original.
This chance opportunity allowed me to ask our favorite board question: why does Jim's Original suffer badly against the neighboring competitor Maxwell Street Express. Jim's has the superior product, yet the neighbor always seems to have better foot traffic. The answer was almost akin to the Hatfields and the McCoys!
Cousin's own both establishments: Jim's by the Stefanovics and the neighboring stand Maxwell Street Express by the Lazerevskis. Both are credited with creating the Maxwell Street Polish as we know and love today. These are not kissing cousins. Rather they are warring cousins.
My contact offered two reasons why there is a difference in foot traffic, one is management and the other is perhaps psychological. He claims Jims has a largely absent owner. My most recent visits I have encountered the same crew: mostly Hispanic and one Eastern European. I have met Jim Stefanovic once years ago, I have never seen him since but my visits are very random. Whereas, he claims Maxwell Street Express always has a family member present to supervise. Consequently, my contact claims the food is more consistent at Maxwell Street Express. Until very recently I would have balked at this argument. However, ReneG and I have both expressed surprise at the change of peppers used at Jims. They are substantially longer peppers, where they would overlap on the sandwich rather than one right after the other. Additionally, I believe ReneG advised they were also hotter. Since I only collect the peppers to take home for others, I will rely on ReneGs opinion. Beyond the pepper issue, my usual order of Polish, onions and mustard has consistently rung true each time. The fries dont do anything for me.
The other reason is more socio-psychological pertaining to street aesthetics and client comfort zones. In the old Halsted location, Jims had a more down-to-basics working class look, which garnered more foot traffic than the spiffier Maxwell Street Express. At the temporary location, Jims has the more refined look than Maxwell Street Express, which has all the traffic. I dont know, it could just as well be location-location-location because you do approach Maxwell Street Express first, then Jims. It may even confuse those casually seeking refreshment that they are one and the same.
What does ring true in my experience was this persons parting thought: once Jims Original and Maxwell Street Express move to their permanent locations on Halsted, they will likely succumb. Presently, you can pull off the expressway, jump out of the car for a minute to collect your food. In the more refined new location on Halsted, the pull-over-and-jump-out scheme isnt likely to be tolerated. Searching for parking and potentially paying as much as $5 to park, then buy a $3 quick meal fix isnt going to jive with peoples thinking. Where they are today is perfect for their survival. Lets hope they extract themselves out of this deal with the devil.
Meanwhile, in our little treasure chest is the location on 95th and I-94 where the other location of Jims Original Polish lives.