By Ken Munson
August 28, 2012
Food trucks are all the rage these days. I’ve seen them downtown, at private parties, and now even at the Loveland Bike Trail. What is it about food from a truck that’s more tantalizing than food in a brick and mortar establishment? I’m still wondering, which is why I spoke with Ava and Dave Baldwin, owners of the Hot Doggin’ It food truck.
The Baldwins have a genuine passion for their home town food from Chicago. While most people think of pizza when it comes to a Chicogoan’s favorite foods, the Chicago Hot Dog is still the number one staple and most popular treat in the Windy City. In fact, there are more Chicago Hot Dog stands in the city of Chicago than there are McDonald’s Burger King’s or Wendy’s combined. Well, hot dog!
The “Chicago style” hot dog got its start from street cart hot dog vendors during the hard times of the Great Depression. Money was scarce, but business was booming for these entrepreneurs who offered a delicious meal on a bun for only a nickel.
When Dave & Ava first opend their store five years ago, they put a large map of the Chicago area on their wall. Customers who frequented the restaurant would place a colored pin on the city or neighborhood they used to live in or where they were born. Eventually, there were over 1,000 pins on the map.
Since they closed the fast food location on Montgomery Rd last December and hit the road with their Hot Doggin It’ mobile food trailer, their business is thriving. Helps when you can cut down on those overhead costs. Moreover, they work a fraction of the hours and are now able to drive to their customers. The fervor with which people enjoy their Chicago Style Hot Dogs is similar to Skyline Chili. If you’re from Chicago, it’s nearly impossible to go an entire week without eating something from the stand.
Quick Q & A with Ava and Dave
iSPY: Why hot dogs?
Ava: We don’t sell hot dogs, we sell Chicago “style” hot dogs. There are a lot of hot dog brands on the market but if it’s not a Vienna All Beef Kosher natural casing hot dog, it’s not a Chicago Hot Dog. People can get their hot dogs anywhere, but they can’t get an original hall of fame Chicago hot dog anywhere else in Cincinnati.
iSPY: What makes a Chicago “Style” Hot Dog?
Ava: It starts with a Kosher All Beef Vienna hot dog that is either steamed or boiled in water. It’s placed on a fresh poppy seed bun and covered with yellow mustard (not brown or Dijon), then you add NEON green relish, a Kosher dill pickle spear, sliced tomato wedges, sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. Oh, and you are NEVER allowed to put ketchup on a Chicago Hot Dog! In fact, we won’t sell anyone a hot dog with ketchup. If they insist, we’ll give them a package of ketchup, but we’ll never put it on ourselves. The sugar in the ketchup negates the acidic combination of other ingredients.
iSPY: Where does your truck make its most frequent stops, and who makes up your typical clientele?
Ava: Currently, we set up at the Loveland Bike Trails across form the canoe rental shop every Saturday and every other Sunday. From Tuesday to Thursday we are in the parking lot of a number of corporate office complexes in the area including Governor Hill, Union Center Blvd, Center Point Office Center, Sunny Delight, United Healthcare. We have requests from many other companies, sporting events, employee appreciation days, and special food events. As far as our clientele goes, nobody doesn’t love a Chciago Hot Dog — moms, dads, kids, CEO’s, teachers, construction workers, doctors and nurses, and especially anyone who has ever grown-up or lived in the Chicago area.
iSPY: Besides the hot dogs, what is your secret to success?
Dave: Ava and I have a passion for Chicago foods — served hot, fresh, and with a smile on our faces. We do whatever it takes to make our customers happy, satisfied, and walking away with a true Chicago food experience. We LOVE our customers! And if you don’t believe me just watch Ava. She loves to talk to familiar customers as much as meeting new ones. Her motto has always been, “Enter as a stranger, leave as our friend!”
The memorable interplay of hot and cold, crisp and soft, sharp and smooth, is a true Chicago institution, and we are happy to welcome it as a permanent guest in the Cincinnati food scene.