The Dog House is a small chain of fast food hot dog restaurants in Durham North Carolina, with satellite locations in Roxboro and Hillsborough. All of the restaurants are housed in what appears to be a dog house, (as in the above photographs, these of the location in Hillsborough).
Though more popular in the early 1970’s when The Dog House restaurants began, the franchise plays heavily upon the interplay of hot dogs and actual dogs, which seem to only be connected by the fact that both concepts contain the word “dog.” The building is shaped as a wooden dog house (a relic now, everyone keeps their dogs in their own house, or purchases an injection mold plastic dog house at a big box store). The trash cans are topped with chain and fake hose connections, to appear as fire hydrants (that everyone who has ever watched cartoons can tell you, are constantly peed on by our canine friends). And, the hot dog variations are each named after a type of dog; the collie dog, boxer dog, and Ol’ Yeller (here changed to Ol’ Yallow), a hot dog drowned in the same hot Velveeta type cheese people douse on nacho chips.
The restaurants seem to revel in the dog reference kitsch they project. In the photograph above, located in the service window below a perfectly understandable “Closed” sign is taped another sign stating “Our dogs have all gone to bed, see you tomorrow.”
The Dog House restaurant buildings offer a combination of service usually not seen together. There is a drive-up window in the tradition of the mega-chains (ex. McDonald’s). But unlike those mega-chains, one can not walk into a Dog House. The interior consists of 4′ x 12′ of floor space, crowded with 3 or 4 ladies taking orders and making food. The other service option is instead a small sliding window, where takeaway orders are placed. So, since most Dog House locations are not in a “downtown” location or walkable community, a car-bound customer pulls off of the street into The Dog House’s asphalt environs and is immediately faced with a choice. Do you stay in your car and use the drive through window, or park your car to walk 5 steps up to the side window to place a take out order? (This choice, in this author’s observation, is usually based on which line is currently shorter).
The Dog House is a great restaurant because it understands the two main concepts of why people eat hot dogs and other fast foods, and delivers on both. First, people eat at hot dog restaurants because they need that sweet and salty interaction your synapses seem to crave from time to time. When I stop by The Dog House for lunch, I order a hot dog (I choose the “Puppy Dog,” a plain hot dog on a bun with no toppings. I want to taste the meat and the white bread, and so ketchup and mustard is such a wast of my time), french fries, an apple turnover and a sweet tea.
For the next 15 minutes my taste buds are spun around, as they try to tell my brain that the crinkle cut french fries are hot and salty, only to be introduced to a tooth-achingly sweet tea, cold from the pellet ice it swims in. The hot dog is also salty, muted in the pillowy white bread bun. Then, to end the salt and sweet interplay, sweet wins with a hot apple turnover, the best one I have ever had outside of an old-timer’s kitchen (where they make real fried apple pies out of dried on the farm apples and biscuit dough).
People also eat at hot dog joints because their current reality clues them in to finding cheap, quick, high-caloric foods. A trip to The Dog House at lunchtime means mingling with manufacturing workers on lunch break, tradespeople on break from the job site, and others who need energy to replenish from the morning, with extra left over to make it through the afternoon.
I personally like The Dog House because it represents what my mind is drawn to in just about any tangible object or experience; a connection to the past. The (mostly) women who work at The Dog House locations I frequent have worked there forever, they know me and smile when they see me. Making hot dogs in aprons and hair nets is something I know I am not going to see at a Starbucks or TGIFriday’s. And, when they pack my order in a white paper bag and hand it out the window, they always implore me to come back and see them real soon.
And, I always feel at home while waiting in line, standing with those tradespeople, their white trucks and vans in the parking lot, or the guys in dungarees who work nearby in the industrial shops. They are like me in that they have roughly 15 to 20 minutes to find some lunch, and then get back to work, to be able to finish up everything that needs to be done that day. The Dog House makes lunch for all of us, quickly and with a smile; two simple notions usually lacking at places our doctor’s would rather us eat, the salad bar or the whole foods market.