09/25/2014 05:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Best Hot Dogs In America Are Going Extinct, And Everyone Wants A Bite Before It's Too Late


On Wednesday, the long line outside Chicago's famed Hot Doug's was full of people who woke up at the crack of dawn, played hooky from work or drove hundreds of miles to be at the restaurant when it opened. They came in such large numbers that Hot Doug's closed earlier than it ever had in its 14-year history -- roughly 10 minutes after it started serving.

"We didn't even turn on the 'Open' sign today," Hot Doug's server Steve Labedz told The Huffington Post as he planted a "Closed" sign at the point in the line where patrons would have to be turned away.

Lines outside Hot Doug's have grown epically long since owner Doug Sohn announced he will shutter his wildly popular eatery on Oct. 4 "to do something else." With roughly a week left, everyone in Wednesday's line wanted one last taste of Hot Doug's so badly, they didn't seem to mind waiting all day for it.

hot doug

A smorgasbord of encased meats showing various Hot Doug's creations. Yum!

From celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain -- who labeled Hot Doug's one of the "13 places to eat before you die" -- to food glossies like Bon Appetite and Travel + Leisure to the average Chicagoan at lunchtime, everyone agrees these are no ordinary hot dogs.

Sohn's creations range from the familiar (the classic Chicago Dog) to the exotic (the Chardonnay and Jalapeño rattlesnake sausage topped with roasted pepper aioli and Père Joseph cheese). Each is expertly crafted and tastes even better when served with a side of luxuriously sloppy duck fat fries (Fridays and Saturdays only).

Charlie Xu, a 21-year-old University of Chicago student, hauled 15 miles on a bus with two of his friends Wednesday morning to try Hot Doug's for the first time. When they arrived around 10 a.m., just 30 minutes before the place opened, they were already number 107 in line.

"My friends thought I was crazy for doing it," Xu, who planned on ordering one of the popular foie gras dogs, told HuffPost.

Hog Doug's long-timer Bonny Davidson walked out of the restaurant with just the Hot Doug's coffee table book (no line for that purchase) but told HuffPost she'll be back next week. The 65-year-old wants one final goodbye, even if it means waiting hours for something she's had so many times before.

Davidson regularly drives into the city from suburban Mt. Prospect for a hot dog after taking her ill young niece to one of her frequent medical appointments.

"It's very depressing. I would come [to Hot Doug's] to feel good," Davidson said. "It's such a nice place and Doug is a great guy."

fois gras dog

The famous foie gras dog, which pitted Sohn against the City Council during Chicago's foie gras ban.

Lines are part of the Hot Doug's experience, though they've stretched as long as a third of a mile during this past summer.

In recent days, Labedz said some people have been mad when the line was cut off, but most just nodded or looked a little forlorn as they walked away.

"We get a lot of sob stories," Labedz said, having heard tales of people who supposedly flew from across the country or wanted to cross Hot Doug's off their bucket list. (One lucky couple who got to the line in time got married inside the sausage shop on Wednesday.)

Sept. 13 was a tipping point. As a yearly music festival descended on the city, an explosion of customers -- too many to serve -- streamed into the restaurant. That was the day Hot Doug's started cutting off lines.

"The line was so long we were still here at 10:30 p.m.," Labedz said. "Doug gets here at 5:30 a.m. We have to do this six days a week."

hot dougs line

Hungry patrons wait in line outside Hot Doug's in Chicago, days before the beloved sausage shop closes after 14 years.

But the long lines have meant good business for a few enterprising locals. An ice cream man with a push cart "made a killing" serving treats to the line this summer, Labedz recalled. He also estimated that a kid who set up a lemonade stand to service the line made a "few hundred bucks."

One customer took things a little too far by making huge carry-out orders and then re-selling the meals at a significant markup, billing himself as a Hot Doug's delivery option. Sohn eventually learned of this and told the man he wouldn't be served takeout anymore.

More commonly, though, lines outside the hot dog joint inspire goodwill and friendship. David Allerding was the last person waiting in Wednesday's line, but the 30-year-old Chicagoan had already been given a dog by someone who'd made it into the restaurant much earlier.

"A guy who drove in from Iowa was the first in line this morning and offered to buy the last guy in line a Chicago Dog."

Allerding, whose wait would be between five and six hours, shared the hot dog with some strangers at the back of the line.

hot dougs note

A sign marking off the end of the line at Hot Doug's.



Inside Hot Doug's