ROSEMONT, Ill. — Call it ‘Shaqpalooza.’
Shaquille O’Neal greeted customers at his Big Chicken restaurant in Rosemont on Friday, just hours before he was scheduled to take the Lollapalooza stage for a DJ set.
Dozens gathered to see the 7-foot-1 basketball legend for the official ribbon-cutting for Big Chicken, which opened on July 11.
Known for his many business ventures, the Hall of Famer called his dip into the chicken sandwich business a natural fit.
“I been in the food business for a while and was always inspired by chicken sandwiches,” Shaq said.
Founded in Las Vegas in 2018, Shaq was also heavily involved in creating the Big Chicken menu. Located at 9437 West Higgins Road, Shaq’s latest venture is home to a neighbor of one of his favorite cities, Chicago.
“I definitely have family here. A lot of friends here. A lot of battles against the Bulls here, but it’s one of my favorite cities. That’s why I’m glad a franchise wanted to open up here in Chicago,” Shaq said.
On the menu, customers can choose from items that include mac-and-cheese, milkshakes, dirty fries and basketball-sized cookies. But Shaq’s go-to is the ‘M.D.E.,’ which stands for ‘Most Dominant Ever.’ It’s a moniker the four-time NBA Champion says followed him throughout his playing career.
‘The Uncle Jerome,’ a Nashville hot chicken sandwich with lettuce, mayo and pickles, is a top seller. Other items include ‘The Shaq Attack,’ a chicken sandwich topped with pepper jack cheese, jalapeno slaw, and chipotle barbecue sauce.
Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens said the excitement surrounding the restaurant is creating a buzz around the city.
“It’s one of the great choices that people have to eat here,” Stephens said. “The lines get a little long around lunchtime, but it’s all a great thing. Just another added jewel here, especially with Shaquille, thanks to the aura that he brings with him.”
Friday night is Shaq’s – stage name DJ Diesel – return to the Lollapalooza stage. Last playing in 2019, O’Neal recalled the surreal experience.
“It was only expected (to be) 10,000 (people), but 200,000 showed up,” he said. “It was crazy. But I did what I usually do and just had a good time.”
The turn tables are not new to the basketball great who was recently named to the ‘NBA’s 75 Greatest Players of All-Time’ list.
“I’ve been DJ’ing for about 4-5 years and it gives me the same energy as being in a Game 7 versus Michael Jordan in the Chicago Bulls arena,” Shaq said. “Not the new one, but the old arena, where you had to walk up the steps. So it’s going to be a lot of great energy and I look forward to it.”
Shaq’s interest in EDM links back to his playing career.
“Dubstep is the hardest form of EDM and I played the hardest form of basketball, which is physical, so the kids get out there and be very physical and get into the mosh pits and they just have a good time,” he said.
Call him ‘DJ Diesel,’ ‘The Big Aristotle,’ ‘Shaq-Fu,’ ‘Big Catcus,’ ‘Superman,’ or any of the dozens of nicknames he’s known for, but don’t call him a celebrity.
“I denounced from being a celebrity three years ago,” Shaq said with a smile. “Those people are crazy. I never want to be labeled as crazy. I’m just a nice guy who followed my dreams.
“Seventy percent of athletes, after they’re done playing, have nothing. And I never wanted to be like that. So I really understood and concentrated on business and (Big Chicken) is just one of the business concepts that I came up with. Me and my team.”
See ‘DJ Diesel‘ take Perry’s Stage’ from 6-7 p.m. Friday. Big Chicken in Rosemont is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.