After debuting their truck at an event titled “Dark Lord Day,” the DönerMen are bringing their Turkish street food to Daley Plaza for the 19th annual Christkindlmarket, Chicago’s largest open-air Christmas festival. For this season, the men have ditched their “demonic designed” hand-painted truck for a wooden booth. This may be a blessing in disguise, considering they are dishing out Döner kebabs next to a group of French nuns selling pastries.
Inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, which began in 1545, the Christkindlmarket Chicago has brought a cherished German and European tradition back to life with international flair and local charm since 1996.
According to Shawn Podgurski, an indie rocker who has traveled the world, pronouncing the word DönerMen is a “tomato, tamato” sort of preference.
The story of how these underdogs got the privilege to freeze their butts off in the courtyard today is an inspiring one. Podgurski was in a band and while traveling with his band they had what he refers to as “pipe dreams.” Eventually one of those pipe dreams came to life.
“While traveling over to Germany I saw that there is nothing here in America that is as popular as Döner kebabs are in Germany,” said Podgurski. It is this juicy kebab in particular that is the DönerMen money maker. A Döner kebab is a Turkish dish made of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie–normally lamb, but it can also be a mixture of veal or beef, and sometimes chicken.
The Berlin Style Durum Döner Wrap that these gentlemen serve is easily 12” long. What resembles a chicken gyro is dressed up with roasted chicken, tzatziki yogurt sauce, tomato/cucumber shirazi, pickle, fresh greens, thin sliced onion, and harissa red pepper sauce.
“Döner and gyro mean the same thing. ‘Gy’ means to turn and döner means to turn,” said Podgurski. The nationalities of the three men on the truck sounds like the start of a bad joke. Podgurski is Polish and a quarter German, while his other partners are 100% German, and British.
With the kebab being their signature dish, it was only appropriate that they call themselves the DönerMen, because that’s what they are.
This is the first time the men are going to serve food throughout the whole winter, and it won’t be their last. Although there is not much preparation a person can do for the Chicago winter, they are prepared to ride the storm out.
“The best part about Christkindlmarket is that it’s going to get us through one of those months, and then all we have to do is worry about January and February,” said Podgurski. After they make a toast to their first year at Christkindlmarket, the men can dream about how warm it will be on their one-year anniversary, on April 26, 2015.
“We debuted at a private event, but didn’t really serve food on the streets until June,” said Podgurski. “Throughout the month of May we had a lot of false starts and finishing touches.”
One of them was the trucks paint job.
“This guy William Test does mural-type stuff and he’s done work for other food trucks, so we brought him on because we thought it would be cool to have a real eye-catching truck,” said Podgurski. “It’s supposed to be a combination of science-fiction fantasy stuff that we’re all fans of.”
Thanks to the 250,000 attendants, it is at Christkindlmarket that Podgurski and those whom he refers to as his “soul brothers” hope to accomplish brand recognition and managing the crowd. So far, the crowd is slow, but as Podgurski puts it, he and his crew are ready to have their asses handed to them.
“We like to party and this is a fun chance to meet new people, international people. There’s a whole lot of multiculturalism involved,” said Podgurski.
On the back of the truck, the men fly the Turkish flag, the German flag, and the Chicago flag, and for those who don’t think the food is authentic, it’s been known to cause a change of heart.
“Turkish people come up to the truck and they give us the stink eye, a little bit, said Podgurski. “I remember one time a Turkish woman came to the truck stating that she was Turkish and she scowled at me. Then she took a bite and she wanted five more.”
There is no doubt that the DönerMen live life to the fullest, and according to Podgurski, he’d be happy working until the day he dies.
“I’ve never known what it was like not to work. Even if I’m sick I go into work. If I call in sick I feel guilty while laying on the couch watching Ellen,” said Podgurski.
Podgurski then tells a story about the vendor from whom he gets his chicken.
“He’s sixty-something years old and he looks great. We’ve asked him what his secret his and his response is, don’t stop working.”
The DönerMen have “turned around” from being clueless as to what they were doing when they first got started, because now they have staff trained to run the show.
For the DönerMen, the Christkindlmarket gig is just practice. The opportunities are endless.
Christkindlmarket runs until Christmas and is open Sun-Thurs 11AM to 8PM and Fri-Sat 11AM-9PM.
-Chicago Area Guest Contributor, Dana Lee