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Chicago's Legendary Hot Doug's to Close in October: "I want to do something else"

hot dougsHot Doug’s proprietor Doug Sohn announced today that he will be closing his legendary Chicago hot dog stand after October 3rd. For the uninitiated, Hot Doug’s is about as good of fast food that exists. The hot dogs were very good, but his specialty sausages were exquisite — today’s fare includes Pork and Rice Cajun Boudin with Crayfish Mayonnaise and Greve Cheese, a Smoked Yak Sausage with Bacon-Garlic Mayonnaise, Ardagh Wine Cheddar Cheese and Crispy Fried Onions, and a Five-Spice Kangaroo Sausage with Hoisin Mayonnaise and Asian Slaw. It’s really fine dining on a bun.

About 2.5 years ago, I profiled Doug for The Daily Meal. He gave really interesting insight about why he felt it was so important to do everything so distinctively, practices which included closing the restaurant for about six weeks a year so he could go on vacation. He didn’t entrust the operations to understudies, because he didn’t ever want his lofty quality standards to be compromised in any way. (He’d apply these standards to other operations, too, and once told me that he brought his own sausages into Wrigley Field because he thought their hot dogs were “cooked in February and stored in a box under second base”.)

165880_10101452692848767_387378266_nI caught up with Doug this morning right before store opening to see if he’d let us know why he was hanging it up, and what, if anything, he’s got planned next.

RG: Why now?

DS: It’s just time. There’s no sinister reason. There’s no hidden reason. Nothing that’s gonna come out later. It’s just time. I’ve been running my adult career on gut instinct and I’ve done what I wanted to do and I want to do something else. And I don’t know what that is.

Will you be selling?

I’m not planning on selling the restaurant. If they come at me with Portillo’s money, then heck yeah. But that’t not the plan. The name is mine.

What’s next?

I’m gonna lie down. I’m gonna go out for lunch — because that looks like fun! — and I’ll figure that out. I have to go to work. I have to make a living, but I’ll go do something else. Not a restaurant. I’m not saying that’s 100% — I’m saying that’s about 99.94%. No, not another restaurant.

Will this be like a band thing where you retire and come back a bunch of times to stoke up interest?

No. This is not The Who. It was an unbelievable run, and beyond any expectations, but my goal was to get to here. It happened, and it’s phenomenal, and now I’ll try to go do something else.

How long have you been giving this thought?

About thirteen-and-a-half years, basically. It’s really been my policy to evaluate at the end of every year whether I want to do this for another year. So far, it’s been yes. But then I got to the end of last year, and the beginning of this year, and so far it’s been like ‘I think I’m good’. I’m totally at peace with it. For me, it’s just time to go to something else. That’s really the best way to explain it. I love this. I’m not burnt out. I also don’t want to be burnt out. I don’t want to close because I have to. I’m happy and lucky that I can do it because I want to. I certainly understand the ramifications, but it’s just one of those things I need to do for myself. Everyone’s healthy. Things are all good.

I’ve tossed around a bunch of ideas for other careers, but I don’t have anything specific like, ‘I’m going to do this.’ I’ll worry about that in a few months. I’ve got some time to just clear my head, and get through this summer, and then go from there. It could be a little nutty — but I hope so — I’m not gonna have an income come October 4th.

One has to presume you have savings?

I have what I’ve always had. That’s the lesson from my grandfather. Live below your means because you never know. I’ll have at least enough money to get me to 2015.

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[Top image via Tribune]

 

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