The popular family-run Bridgeport restaurant is closing after a decade of serving Chicago’s South Side

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Irais and Josie Rodriguez have only vacationed once in 12 years.

The two weeks they spent in Mexico last Christmas marked the longest the couple has been away from the restaurant since taking over the Bridgeport restaurant. In fact, their two-week vacation was the only free time they had in over ten years of owning and operating the restaurant at 3500 S. Halsted St.

For more than a decade, the couple have been staying at the cozy diner seven days a week, including all holidays, serving plates of comfort food to loyal regulars who consider it a neighborhood institution. Between wood paneled walls and cheerful signs they raised their two sons. Now in their early 20s, the boys work alongside their parents.

But at the end of this month, the Rodriguezes will once again be retiring from their beloved Bridgeport joint – that time will be at an end forever.

“I’ve realized it’s time to retire,” said Irais Rodriguez, 62. “And I’m kind of sad, but I’m also kind of happy because I want to spend some quality time with my family. In all those years I never had a weekend off.”

After posting a sign on the front of their corner building announcing the closure, the Rodriguezes were inundated with calls and complaints bemoaning the announcement. Social media eruptedwith many saying their day was ruined by the news.

“If I walk up to a table and say, ‘Are you okay?’ They’re like, ‘No it’s not, why are you closing?'” said Josie Rodriguez, 52.

On one of the last few days at the Bridgeport Restaurant, customers were whispering to each other, wondering why the always-busy place was closing up shop.

Irais, left, and Josie Rodriguez pose in front of the building they have owned for the past 12 years. Customers flock to the Bridgeport Diner for the family atmosphere and delicious food.

No one is quite sure how long the restaurant, sometimes referred to as the Bridgeport Family Restaurant, has been around.

“We have customers in their 70s who remember coming here as a kid,” said Josie Rodriguez. “So nobody really knows how long it’s been open.”

Kelvin Sandridge, who is calling ahead to make sure his stand is free, was furious to discover his neighborhood diner was closing.

“Where should I go now?” Sandridge asked. “I’m really sad. I don’t know of any other place to go right now… This is the worst part.”

Sandridge, who lives around the corner, says he introduced at least six friends to Bridgeport Restaurant.

Irais Rodriguez started in the food industry at an IHOP in 1979. He continued to cook and opened his own restaurant in 1991. Josie Rodriguez came to Chicago from Mexico when she was 18 and married Irais. Several more restaurants followed until the couple bought the Bridgeport favorite 12 years ago.

“I said to my husband, ‘buy me the restaurant,’ because I thought I was going to the restaurant [White Sox] Games,” she said, laughing. “But we’re stuck here, we’re not even going. Now we have the time to go to the games.”

Josie Rodriguez is the face of the restaurant, greeting customers warmly, taking orders and answering the phone, while Irais Rodriguez stays in the kitchen, where he’s most comfortable – always mixing up the dishes his loyal fans gravitate towards to come back.

Across the extensive breakfast and lunch menu, fan favorites include the green chilaquiles, the pancakes and the three-meat Bridgeport stir-fry.

Generations of families dine at the restaurant.

The restaurant has its early risers, who drop in at 6:30 sharp before their days begin. And the diner has been used by several television shows, including Chicago PD and Chicago Fire.

The pandemic hasn’t been particularly hard on business, either. They didn’t close long and offered take away food. White Sox fans would gather before games, and Chicago’s notoriously freezing winters drove freezing residents into the building in even larger numbers.

But despite the constant flow of business, the couple say they had no idea how much people loved their dinners.

“We know we’re always busy, but the way they think about food and everything is amazing,” said Josie Rodriguez. “We never knew how much they cared.”

Josie Rodriguez, right, takes orders over the phone a week before the Bridgeport restaurant closes permanently.

Josie Rodriguez, right, takes orders over the phone a week before the Bridgeport restaurant closes permanently.

In the meantime, Irais Rodriguez is looking forward to getting some sun — literally. His doctor told him he has a vitamin D deficiency, which he attributes to spending all his waking hours in restaurants.

The Rodriguez family owns the building and will likely rent the space to someone else.

But the couple will stick with the Bridgeport restaurant name.

“It feels like we deserve to keep the name,” said Irais Rodriguez with a smile.

Josie Rodriguez will serve the register on June 21, 2022. The last day that Bridgeport Restaurant will serve the community is June 30th.

Josie Rodriguez will serve the register on June 21, 2022. The last day that Bridgeport Restaurant will serve the community is June 30th.

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