Doug Sohn didn't attend many Cubs games while he was busy running Hot Doug's. But "retirement" didn't stop the Pork Knight from striking. Starting over the weekend, fans attending games at Wrigley Field could nosh on a small selection of Hot Doug's favorites while watching the Cubbies. The Hot Doug's stand is behind the centerfield scoreboard at the new Platform 14. It's all part of the bleachers renovations unveiled Friday at Wrigley by Cubs brass.
So far there's three sausages to pick from, all named after former Cubs players, something that Sohn did at the restaurant as way to pay homage to his favorite players of yesteryear. There's the Dave Kingman (bacon cheeseburger sausage, cola barbecue sauce, sharp cheddar), Rich Reuschel (atomic pork sausage, chipotle mustard, pepper jack) and the Carmen Fanzone (spicy Vienna Polish sausage, spicy brown mustard, caramelized onions). More players will get tributes as the season rolls on, and hopefully this guy. And according to Sohn, who attended games over the weekend, there's already lines, but not the size that folks saw during Hot Doug's last days.
Here's a Q&A with Sohn about his deal with the Cubs.
How did you pick these three sausages? How will the menu evolve?
Doug Sohn: It's obviously a much smaller menu, and I worked in conjunction with Levy Restaurants. It's a little bit harder. It's a little bit different kind of strategy in thinking up the menu. No. 1, it's what can be made available, you need to actually get the sausage to the ballpark and work the with the manufacturers I work with. This is not the restaurant. And at least in the beginning, it's not going to be quite as bold, as niche. You have to have a little bit more universal appeal. A lot of it is newness. It's going to take time to see what works.
White Sox fans feel this is the first free agent pick up by the Cubs that they're envious of. How do you feel about the notion that Sox Park has better food than Wrigley?
Sox fans: Come to Wrigley. Have good food and see a real ball team! That's right, I said it! And it's one of the rare times I get to say that. I think this is a concerted effort. I don't want to speak on the behalf of the Cubs, but we all know that over the years in Wrigley the food quality and selection (has been lacking) — especially as these newer ballparks come about. Some of it is they don't have the room to actually do what they'd like to do. Some of it is just the physical limitations of the building. I think they know that this is the first of many food improvements to come. I think [Cubs management] understands that and they will make it overall a better experience.
Will we see Hot Doug's sausages at other stadiums and places?
For right now, no other stadiums. It's exclusively in the bleachers at Wrigley. But hopefully it will make its way to the grandstand. We'll see how this goes. It's still a small operation and keeping up with the demand at Wrigley is definitely not nothing.
How are you working with Levy and Wrigley?
We had a tasting with them. We definitely want the best ways to serve the sausage and it was totally approved by me. We'll continue to do tastings and rein in the quality control. The onus is on my end. But as far the nuts and bolts, thank goodness that's not my responsibility.
Some customers at the restaurant were special, and you didn't serve alcohol. How will workers deal with customers who don't quite get the concept and have had the benefit of a couple of Old Styles?
I was there on Friday and Saturday and you can already tell there were people who got it, people who thought, "this is vaguely familiar." There were people who didn't understand it at all. It's going to take time, it's going to take time on the Cubs' end just to get people to Platform 14. It's behind the center field scoreboard, so you don't see it when you come to the bleachers unless you make the concerted effort to go behind the scoreboard. People will definitely catch on. It's not like Tony Luke's [Cheesesteaks] in Philadelphia. Wrigley is such a tourist attraction. You have a lot of people in Chicago for just a couple days and Wrigley is on their list of things to see. But you have a lot of season-ticket holders in the bleachers as well.
You wore your 40-year-old Cubs hat to Friday's press conference. With this multi-year deal with the club to serve concessions, do you feel you're now part of the Cubs' team?
You know, I do a little bit, certainly I feel part of the renovations of Wrigley Field, certainly part of this renaissance and the new plan with the team. I like to think so; sure. It's just so unbelievably cool to be a fan of a team for a half a century and be asked to be part of it in whatever capacity. And it's still a sports team, and as you get old you get a little more jaded. You realize it's a business and it's a private business for all intents and purposes. But with professional sports, there's element of trust; it's unlike virtually every other business. So to be asked to be part of this...you try to separate the fandom out of it, but [then I thought] why would I want to do that?