Dick Portillo knows a thing or two about selling hot dogs. Starting more than 40 years ago with $1,100 and a small stand, he has built a $500 million empire in Chicago.
Now he has his sights set on L.A.
"What's really amazing is that of the three largest cities in the country, the one that eats the most hot dogs is Los Angeles," said the gravel-voiced Portillo from his company's Oak Brook, Ill. headquarters.
L.A.'s hunger for foot-longs isn't just attracting Portillo's Restaurant Group Inc., which will open its first outpost in Buena Park this fall, with more locations likely to follow. Other newcomers are trying to take a bite out of the 42 million packages of hot dogs sold in Los Angeles last year. That's more than the amount consumed in New York and Chicago, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.
That same appetite consistently results in Dodger Stadium selling more dogs than any other baseball team and keeps them coming day and night at Pink's Famous Chili Dogs.
When Portillo was checking out L.A.'s hot dog scene last year, he was surprised that unlike New York and Chicago there isn't one dominant chain, even though Wienerschnitzel came close. "I saw those lines at Pink's and I knew there was a place for us," he said.
But Stephen Worth, who reviews L.A. hot dog stands on thehotdogspot.com, isn't so sure. "L.A. is made up of people from all over the place," he said. "And they each have their regional tastes of what a hot dog should be."
Hot dog ambience?
The hot dog stand has been an L.A. fixture for longer than there's been a car culture. As the city began to sprawl, fast food operators would find small, oddly shaped lots and put up cheaply made stands near busy thoroughfares and intersections.
While the high-volume, low-overhead business can be quite lucrative for operators like Portillo, an L.A. location has its challenges specifically, getting people out of their cars. Thus came gimmicks, such as Tail of the Pup, which operates out of a giant hot dog-shaped booth on San Vicente Boulevard.
At the upscale The Stand on Ventura Boulevard in Encino the only other hot dog restaurant besides Pink's to garner a listing in the Los Angeles edition of the Zagat Survey cooks decked out in white chef's uniforms prepare premium tube steaks, along with the restaurant's other dishes, while customers can sip fine wines and draft beers.
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