Hot Doug’s set for departure
by Donna Berry
|Hot Doug’s, Chicago’s sausage superstore and encased meat emporium, is set to permanently close its doors on Oct. 3.
CHICAGO — Three and a half hours, that was the longest wait time on Aug. 23 at Hot Doug’s, Chicago’s sausage superstore and encased meat emporium, which is set to permanently close its doors on Oct. 3. Owner Doug Sohn has no intent to sell the concept, which opened in 2001. Sohn plans to simply cease operations while he still has the energy to enjoy life outside of the sausage business.
“It’s just time,” he said.
The doors may lock permanently, but the memories and stories will live for a long time. The reason is because Hot Doug’s has become more than a hot-dog stand. It is an experience, one that has been featured on food shows and in travel books. Sohn even penned his own book in 2013, taking readers on a journey through the history of hot dogs, his restaurant and the many patrons, including sports and Hollywood celebrities, who have declared Sohn the King of Dogs.
There are many facets to the success of Hot Doug’s. One is how the french fries double in price on Friday and Saturday because they are prepared in duck fat rather than the traditional frying oil used Monday through Thursday.
Another is the headlines Hot Doug’s made in 2006 after being fined for featuring a homemade duck sausage topped with truffle Dijon mustard and the then-banned foie gras on its menu. By the time the City Council of Chicago realized how ridiculous the ban was, and lifted it, Sohn paid $250 in fines. This was a nominal expense for the exposure, as Hot Doug’s quickly became a destination for sausage lovers from around the world thanks to global media picking up Chicago’s foie gras controversy.
Sohn has personally taken many orders at the counter-service restaurant, which is open six days a week and only accepts cash payment. It’s no wonder he will often put up a “closed for vacation” sign, sometimes without any warning to patrons, many of whom travel long distances for the experience.
The web site currently reads, “You would think that since we’re closing for good in October, it would be foolish for us to be closed on a potentially lucrative holiday weekend. That kind of thinking is what we at Hot Doug’s call ‘crazy talk!’ Therefore, Hot Doug’s will be closed for Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 1, through Wednesday, Sept. 3. We will re-open Thursday, Sept. 4. Permanent vacation begins Saturday, Oct. 4.”
|The restaurant made headlines in 2006 after being fined for featuring a homemade duck sausage topped with truffle Dijon mustard and the then-banned foie gras on its menu.
Without revealing what the future holds, Sohn simply said it is time to do something else. Frankly, it’s impressive he has maintained the long hours this long.
When the original location opened, it was busy, but lines would maybe be 10 people deep. After announcing the upcoming closure, wait times have exceeded four hours, and this wait is outside in a line that wraps around the building, crosses a city alley and is in front of private homes.
The line forms even before the doors open at 10:30 am. At 4:00 pm, an employee becomes the last person in line, turning away anyone who shows up too late.
“Sometimes the line is so long at 4:00 that we still are serving after 6:30,” said Sohn.
Sohn serves up to 800 sausages per day. The menu includes basics such as Chicago-style hot dogs, Polish sausage and bratwurst, but what most patrons come for are the gourmet, upscale encased meats, which range from $6 to $10.
|The menu includes basics such as Chicago-style hot dogs, Polish sausage and bratwurst, but most patrons come for gourmet, upscale encased meats.
Specialties featured this past weekend included:
• Apple and bacon duck sausage with blue cheese dijonnaise, jalapeño bacon and toasted hazelnuts;
• Foie gras and sauternes duck sausage with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and fleur de sel;
• Lamb sausage containing apricot, paneer cheese and garam masala with vindaloo mayonnaise and buttered apples;
• Porcini and Parmesan chicken sausage with chevre aioli, roasted red pepper and mushrooms sautéed in duck fat;
• Smoked Texas pork hot link with Coca-Cola BBQ sauce, white cheddar cheese curds and pickled green tomato;
• Sweet Chinese pork sausage with hoisin mustard and Asian slaw; and
• Turducken sausage with pumpkin raita, raspberry Bellavitano cheese and port-soaked dried cranberries and cherries.
The menu is why Hot Doug’s has become a foodie’s destination. Some of its biggest fans have gotten a Hot Doug’s tattoo in order to get free sausages for life … or at least until Friday, Oct. 3. Why not finish the week and wait until Saturday to go on permanent vacation?
Sohn said he just does not want to.