Doug Sohn had quite a day yesterday. After announcing in the morning that he's closing the iconic Hot Doug's in October, he then became the eye of a media and customer storm the rest of the day. But in classic Doug Sohn fashion, he still managed to cut the line off at 4 p.m. on the dot and catch most of the Hawks game before entering day two of the countdown to closing date.
Early this morning, Sohn chatted about his decision, the public reaction, and if there's a chance he'll change his mind.
What was it like when people first found out?
I posted it on the website, granted a little cryptically, around 8:15 (a.m.). I thought I might have a little time, started eating my cereal at the shop around 9:15, and that's when the first calls started and the floodgates opened. Truly, the phone did not stop ringing. News trucks, reporters, it was a little insane. At one point I yelled out to the group of reporters, "really, isn't there anything else going on in Chicago today?" There's a huge report on climate change, the country's going to be flooded, heat waves, but oh no, there's a hot dog stand closing.
How much busier was it than a regular Tuesday?
Significantly. I was thinking, "boy, this is a great way to drum up business on a Tuesday." (It was) close to double (the business). There was a line out the door at closing (4 p.m.); (that usually only happens in) summer or a nice Saturday in spring or fall, never on a Tuesday. There were a fair number of people who had no idea and were just showing up on a Tuesday to have lunch who thought it was always like this. It was memorable.
How do you feel?
It's interesting. I still need to make a living, I still need to pay staff. In some ways that's really helpful in the sense that it doesn't give me much time to think about it or dwell on it. But the outpouring yesterday is unbelievably humbling.
Having said that, no regrets on the decision. I still feel truly in my gut and my heart that it's 100 percent the right thing to do. Knowing myself, when I come to a decision, I see it through.
Is there any chance you'll change your mind?
I don't want you to write that I left the door open. I'm pretty sure no. If something bizarre happens in the next five months, I suppose there is a .00001 percent chance, but if I had a farm to bet I would bet the farm no.
And by bizarre you mean…
It would have to be something otherworldly, like all of a sudden an anvil dropped on my head and I became another person. It's not outside of the realm of possibility, but barring anything Stephen King-esque happening, I don't see it.
Take me back to when you made the decision.
Pretty much since I started, it's been my philosophy at the end of each year to evaluate the previous year and do I want to continue on. In the early years it was like "yeah, absolutely." At the end of this past year I thought "you know what? I think this is the year."
Some of it's physical—restaurant work is really, really hard work. You look in kitchens and it's all 20-year-olds, for a reason. I'm not burnt out but I'm getting the little tinglings that that could happen and I didn't want that to happen. It's been an extraordinary run beyond any expectations. I'm in the fortunate position that I can close because I want to do, not because I have to, and that opportunity is not that common.
Are there any other reasons (for closing) that you haven't mentioned yet?
I'm not sick, I'm not doing it to spend more time with my family. I wasn't raised in the restaurant business, this wasn't a lifelong dream, it isn't the be-all-end-all for me. I'd like to do something else (and) I have no idea what that is. There's no hidden agenda.
Is there any chance that Hot Doug's will resurface in another way?
As a restaurant or food truck or popup? No. One of the reasons I'm closing it instead of modifying it or hiring a manager or changing it is that what it is now is what it is and I don't want it to be anything other than that. Any other way isn't Hot Doug's, it's something else. I'm keeping the name and logo, maybe I'll open up a law firm "Briskman, Hot Doug's and Briskman." But no, I don't want to run a restaurant anymore.
Is your lease up?
Yes, the timing has to do with the lease as well. It comes up the end of October.
What do you have planned for the last five months at Hot Doug's?
Honestly, my plan is running it exactly as it has been. I'm contemplating quadrupling the prices but I won't do that. We've never acknowledged any other anniversary.
Were any customers crying?
There were definitely a handful of customers that seemed to be a little on the verge but nothing beyond that, thank goodness. But swing by that last week and we'll see what happens.
· Hot Doug's to Close in October [-ECHI-]
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