It's been 13 years since Doug Sohn opened the doors to Hot Doug's in a time when fast food dominated the landscape. While Chicagoans mourn the announced closing, here are five ways he changed the game.
1) Fast service doesn't mean sacrificing quality. "Fast Food Nation" was released in 2001, the same year Sohn opened in Roscoe Village. The book and movie heightened people's concerns about what was in their food, allowing Sohn to capitalize by showing people that fast service restaurants can still serve high quality product. He took advantage by offering selections like a ribeye steak sausage with chimichurri, ardah wine cheese and crispy shallots.
2) Accessibility. While price points can turn people way from a restaurant, it's not the case at Hot Doug's which still features a traditional Chicago-style dog for $2.50. Vegetarians swear by the veggie corn dogs and how every sausage can be swapped for a veggie dog. Meanwhile, the "Mountain Man" sausage features elk and antelope which should please any carnivore, while a sophisticated palette like Anthony Bourdain still talks about the foie gras dog. It's also kid-friendly.
3) Brought options to an underserved neighborhood, Avondale. After a 2004 fire closed his original sausage superstore in Roscoe Village, Sohn searched for a new location before finding that soon to be familiar corner on California and Roscoe. Others slowly followed. Less than half a mile away, Hot Doug's and Kuma's Corner formed an axis of awesome when the metal-themed burger spot opened in 2005. Bill Kim opened Urban Belly down the street in 2008, followed by The Orbit Room, Honey Butter Fried Chicken opened last year, and Parachute's opening is imminent.
4) Customer Service. Hot Doug's continued to blend upscale and fast-casual food by utilizing the best aspects of customer service from both. Patrons could still enjoy free refills on soft drinks but could also bring their favorite bottles of wine. Sohn served as a host, greeting customers behind the counter sporting a Hot Doug's shirt and a signature pair of Zubaz ready to take your order. Despite the length of the line, he's happy to steer you in the right direction with a sausage suggestion or chat about the plight of Chicago's baseball teams. That warm connection continued to bring in the regulars.
5) Hot Dogs aren't just for baseball games and stands. A number of skeptics have entered Hot Doug's hallowed walls underestimating the menu. Sure, they may have checked out the specials on the website, but no one wants to know how a hot dog is made and many believe it's just a simple street vendor's food. Much of that has changed, as Hot Doug's has inspired a host of imitators such as Franks 'N' Dawgs, Chicago's Dog House and the now-shuttered Haute and the Dog.
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