Is Los Angeles ready for another hot dog stand with a colorful name?
Impressed by the longtime success of Pink's Famous Chili Dogs long lines can be found at that 59-year-old eatery day and night real estate developers Barry Hartsfield and Jonathan Cota are launching their own chain serving similar fare, and with a similar name: Red's.
The first location, Red's of Hollywood, opened at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue three months ago, and the two plan to add two more locations within the next three months the first of what they hope will be a large chain.
For motivation, Hartsfield said he and his partner needed to look no further than Pink's, the legendary restaurant on La Brea Avenue where many Angelenos trek to satisfy their chili dog cravings.
"Just to look at Pink's, you see that line of people that doesn't end from dawn to dusk," Hartsfield said. "There's always 20 to 25 people in line there."
Hartsfield and his partner, both principals at the Hollywood-based real estate investment firm Tate Group Inc., plan to open their second Red's location by the end of this month at Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee Avenue across from Musso & Frank Grill. The third location, at Melrose and Spaulding avenues near Fairfax High School, is expected to open within the next 90 days.
Hartsfield said the goal is for 20 Red's locations throughout Los Angeles over the next two years. They then plan to license the name to franchisees, who will run their own locations. The two investors plan to retain ownership of the original 20 sites, Hartsfield said.
Hartsfield and Cota, who also refurbish and own hotels, expect to spend about $5.5 million for equipment, construction and land for the first 20 locations.
Richard Pink, co-owner of Pink's Famous Chili Dogs and son of its founder, said he has driven by Red's which has a distinctive, red-tiled building with a giant hot dog model on the roof, topped with red (ketchup) and yellow (mustard) neon but has not tried its food.
"I wish them good luck," Pink said. "It's a risky business. It's an enormous capital investment."
Pink said that because of the high cost of leases, equipment and employees, a hot dog stand has to sell a large amount of food and drinks just to cover its expenses.
The volume has not been all that high so far. During lunch and dinner times, only a handful of people has been patronizing the new stand. But Hartsfield is awaiting a new Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway station kitty-corner to the stand that could bring extra walk-in business when it opens next May.
Chances of Red's growing into a big chain are slim, according to industry observers, who point to other local chains such as Cupid's and Hot Diggity Dogs that have stayed relatively small.
Pink's itself has long resisted the temptation to open new locations or franchise its name. But earlier this year, Pacific Theatres Corp. started selling Pink's hot dogs at its Winnetka 20 movie theater in Chatsworth the first time its hot dogs were sold anywhere but at its La Brea stand.
Pink said the arrangement has been a success, with as many as 5,000 to 6,000 hot dogs sold in a single weekend. Pink is in discussions with Pacific to add his hot dogs to additional theaters, such as its Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.
"This has never been a hot dog city," said Merrill Shindler, editor of the Zagat Survey restaurant guide for Los Angeles and restaurant critic for KLSX-FM 97.1. "Chicago is a great, great hot dog city. New York has always been a hot dog city. We've always been a hamburger city, and also a taco and burrito city, but never a hot dog city."
Shindler said most people tend to see hot dogs as food to eat while they're walking, thus accounting for the large number of hot dog stands and carts in cities like New York and Chicago. In L.A., people tend to have more of their meals sitting down, Shindler said.
Pink said replicating the success of his family's hot dog stand on a large scale would be no easy feat.
"It's flattering that someone takes a look and says, 'I can do it,' " Pink said. "My father used to say, 'After 40 years, you start to make a few bucks in this business.' (Pink's) is very difficult to duplicate. It just takes years and years of being in business and becoming a landmark because you've been there so long."
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