Johnny's Wee Nee Wagon

Johnny Cappas stands outside his Markham hot dog stand, Johnny's Wee Nee Wagon. (Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune / August 28, 2009)

First there was Felony Franks, the controversial West Side hot dog stand staffed by ex-cons.

Now notoriously loudmouthed 1980s cocaine kingpin John Cappas has taken the encased-meat-served-by-a-criminal concept one step further.

Cappas doesn't just work at Johnny's Wee Nee Wagon in south suburban Markham: He owns it.

"I've got the best weenies in Chicago," said Cappas, who as a teenager controlled the cocaine trade on the Southwest Side, before his arrest and trial became national news.

The Marist High School graduate was making $25,000 a week selling cocaine before he hit age 20, attracting attention with his flashy cars, fast women and crew of flunkies, who he'd take to nightclubs in stretch-limos, wearing jackets emblazoned with his name.

When federal warrants were issued for his arrest, he famously flaunted his contempt for the law by partying on a friend's speedboat on Lake Michigan with TV reporter Giselle Fernandez before turning himself in.

But after two Chicago cops' kids who owed him money killed themselves, Cappas was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison in 1989.

Now 43, he served 15 years, an experience he said changed him for the better.

"This is my chance to give back," he said, explaining that he plans to sponsor Little League teams and turn his hot dog stand into a playground for kids, complete with a miniature railway ride and a stagecoach.

The business, previously called Willie's Wee Nee Stand, has been on the 15900 block of Pulaski Road since 1955, and Cappas said he hopes to re-create with it the western-theme amusement arcades of his Oak Lawn youth.

Though the scrappy two-lot stand is decidedly smaller than the illegal empire he once controlled, and he expects to make less money than he did selling cars since his release from prison in 2003, Cappas said "feeding families is an honest business that I can take pride in."

Even so, he's happy to trade on his bad guy reputation.

At a grand opening party for the business Sunday, he said, will be Julie Craig, his former girlfriend and a one-time Playboy model best-remembered for spending his drug money on a diamond necklace that spelled out the letters "SPOILED BRAT."

Also at the party, he said, will be Dick and Clement Messino, brothers and former Chicago police officers convicted of selling hundreds of pounds of cocaine. Prosecutors alleged they supplied Cappas, but he refused to testify against them.

A smaller courtesy will be extended to police visiting Cappas' new business.

"I've told the local cops they can have all the free soda they want," he said.