The 10:30am Hot Dog

Last summer, my wife and I took our first trip to Chicago.

As I started doing my research, and carefully mapping out all the places I  wanted to check out, there was one place that started to show up more and more.

That place was Hot Doug’s.

Hot Doug’s, also known as the The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium is the premier hot dog restaurant of Chicago. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure we could debate for hours over who has the best hot dogs or deep dish pizza, but Hot Doug’s just keeps appearing in all the right places.

For example, one of my favorite food celebrities, Anthony Bourdain, named it one of the “Top 13 Places to Eat Before You Die.

This is coming from a guy who’s been to nearly every nook and cranny of the planet looking for something good to eat. Bourdain wants you to try Hot Doug’s before you die! That’s a pretty strong referral.

When my wife and I decided we would venture to Hot Doug’s, we learned that this place was a bit of an anomaly.

For example, it’s not in the heart of Chicago. Our GPS showed it was about a 20 minute drive from our hotel on the magnificent mile, not exactly walking distance.

We also learned that we’d have to get there early. How early? Between 9:30am and 10:00am at the latest. Seriously…for Hot Dogs?? On a Friday morning?? Yup.

Heather was skeptical of  my planned hot dog pilgrimage. She’s not a hard-core connoisseur of the encased meats, but being the great wife she is, she was ready to go at 9:00 am.

We got in the car and followed the GPS’s directions. As we approached, we got our first glimpse of Hot Doug’s. It looked dark and closed (which it was). There was no line outside. Had Doug’s gone out of business?

And then we turned the corner.

Sure enough, there were loads of people already lined up all the way down the block to Hot Doug’s.

The kicker about Doug’s is that this isn’t your typical tourist hotspot. It’s far enough off the beaten track that you don’t have to deal with buses full of senior citizens. The line includes a mix of tourist and locals.

We were shocked at how many people, waiting in line, were local residents of the area. Imagine that. A local business not relying on the tourism industry.

Shortly after 10:30am, the line started moving…slowly.

Something about entering the doors of Doug’s was like entering the secret garden. It was a pivotal moment in my life.

As we entered, we saw Doug taking orders. It’s been noted that Doug looks like a hot dog and, in a weird way, he kinda does. They’ve even put his face on the logo.


We finally reached Doug and our moment of glory. When Doug realized we were Canadian’s, he told us how much he loved Canada and that he owned a cottage out on the East Coast.

I can’t remember exactly what we ordered, but I know they were two classic “dogs”

The Chicago-Style Hot Dog with all the trimmings: ’nuff said… for a buck seventy-five’

There were some specialty dogs as well.

We could have ordered such amazing specialties like the

Ostrich Sausage with Cumin Mustard Cream, Tabasco Olives, and Aged Piave Cheese

or maybe Doug’s

Bacon and Jalapeno Duck Sausage with Blood Orange Dijonnaise and Goat Cheese

possibly even The Elvis, a Polish Sausage: Smoked and savory – just like the King

or maybe even a

Spicy Beef Hot Link with Coca-Cola BBQ Sauce and Pepper-Jack Cheese.

I know for sure we had Doug’s Friday specialty with french fries fried in Duck Fat. I can’t remember exactly which specialty dogs we tried, but here’s what matters.

Hot Doug’s serves only one thing and they do it better than anyone else on the planet, hot dogs. They do it so well, they don’t struggle for business. Hot Doug’s will never be hurting for business.

Doug works from 10:30-4:00 Monday through Saturday. If you want a hot dog at 4:15 in the afternoon, you’ll have to go elsewhere. Doug has closed.

Doug doesn’t jump around and try all types of new things. He doesn’t latch on to fads in the hopes of making a few extra bucks.

He doesn’t add burgers to the menu so he can capture the attention of the folks who feel like a burger.

He doesn’t add pizza to the menu to try to compete with the all the new pizza joints opening up, but if you’re looking to try a rattlesnake sausage Hot Doug’s will occasionally carry it.

He doesn’t even need to advertise or spend extra dollars on marketing. His fans do that for him.

Oh – and as I mentioned above.. Doug’s actually working. He greets every customer with a smile. Doug will take the time to tell you why putting ketchup on a hot dog is a sin. Doug will tell you about his cottage on the East Coast. Doug will tell you that a large fry is probably too much, and you’ll be fine with a small-size order. Doug is a linchpin. Doug is indispensable.

So why is your business trying to please everyone?

How can you possibly do anything, even half way decently, if you’re trying to please every person’s likes and dislikes?

What if you just try pleasing a small number of people who love what you have to offer and do it so well, they will wait over an hour for what you have to offer?

What if you do ONE thing so well that your business or service is something people want, need, and will try before they die?

Now I have 12 more places left to eat before I die.

  • John-Boy

    That was a sweet review!

    I personally do not go out of my way for the dogs.
    I enjoy the company of LIVE dogs not the “encased” kind.

    Well specifically I think they are gross when I think about which parts of an animal might be incased in that meat :)Although the hypocrite that I am, the sure do TASTE great LOL

    Now after reading this, if I get near Doug's I just might have to try one, for sure the duck fat fries! LOL

    Your review made for a good read, very entertaining.You could do a nice book on your Chicago eats. Like the cupcakes, or the carmel corn place.
    Chi-Town Italian Beef is Monster Good stuff too! Those beef parts I devour in minutes HHAHA

    PBS television did an awesome show about Hot Dogs which was absolutely fascinating. A must watch if you see it listed. It is available for purchase too and check the rentals.

    “Encased Meats” :)

  • DougP

    Noah…you Dog! No one can be “all things to all people” as it is just impossible. But you can do your darndest to 'be all things” to a select few with a simple product line.

    Great read you have posted, thank you.

    If you ever make it to the Black Hills of South Dakota be sure to check out the Alpine Inn located in Hill City. They do one thing on their evening menu, steak, and just one cut, Filet Mignon.

    In a word, delicious.

    Take Care,

    PS – If you ever make it to Bismarck…bring your fly rod :)

  • lindsaymarilyn

    Got to Hot Doug's on a Saturday evening around 8:30 only to find them closed. Got right on the phone to Noah and said -Whats going on? It's closed. Noah firmly replied “what do you expect……Doug runs a very tight ship.” Well of course ,how crazy of us to think otherwise. Now that we know this we will be standing in line by 10:00 on our next trip to Chicago. We want that Dog,Doug!!!

  • Noah Fleming

    Doug! I'd love to go fishing with you someday. Let's make it happen!!!

  • Noah Fleming

    Thanks John-Boy!

    Appreciate the comment. Next time you get to Chicago, be sure to make the trek to Doug's.

  • Noah Fleming

    You learned the hard way. Doug does his 1 thing so well, he can have crazy hours for hotdogs like 10:30-4:00 and call it a day.

    Now get back to Chicago and get that dog. I'd go with the

    Jumbo Slaw Dog: Quarter-Pound Jumbo Beef Hot Dog with Yellow Mustard and Spicy Cole Slaw