For anyone living in or around Chicago and not under a rock, it’s hard to escape the fact that the most famous hot dog stand in America, Hot Doug’s, is closing today. BOOM. Just like that, Doug Sohn is walking away from a sure thing. He is the Michael Jordan of purveyors of encased meat, the standard bearer of leave ’em wanting more.
More power to him. I wish him well. I like Doug.
We first met in my 20s when I was head over heels in love with a close friend of his. It was embarrassing, really, but that’s a different story for a different blog post. Word to the wise, never date a musician. Like ever. You’re welcome, young women of America!
But way back when, our mutual friend organized a road trip to all things Elvis in Memphis and Tupelo, Mississippi. I was way out of my league with these folks, who were super hip and grungy and lived in Wicker Park when it was still full of tenements, but love is blind, right? And so, I went. It was awesome, actually. And despite my social awkwardness and insecurities, I had a great time.
Elvis was introduced to me on that trip and I’ve been a fan ever since. How did I not appreciate Elvis before that?!
Doug and I were in a group of eight or ten. Some of them were established musicians — Cath Carroll and Santiago Durango, anyone? I didn’t know them either, but they both exuded cool. Like serious cool. I was this dork drunk on unrequited love who lived in a studio apartment with a twin bed.
Doug was always kind and approachable when I saw him. He was cool without being oppressive about it, you know? He was easy to talk to and didn’t get that bored expression on his face if we found ourselves sitting next to one another. I like cool and easy and Doug was both those things. He still is.
This was the 90s, pre-cell phone and digital cameras. At the time, Doug was in culinary school. A few weeks after the trip, he hosted the road trip crew at his apartment so that we could all trade copies of the photos we had taken. Can you even imagine that today?! Oy, the technology.
Anyway. Doug made a feast for us, featuring a buffet of Elvis’ favorite foods — and yes, fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches are that delicious.
That was almost twenty years ago now. Good God.
In that time, I got over my unhealthy and counterproductive infatuation with unavailable musicians and headed to grad school, marriage, motherhood, and Cancerville. Doug graduated culinary school and created the phenomenon that is Hot Doug’s. You’ve got to hand it to him, he has cultivated the reputation of the humble hot dog to never seen before heights. Restaurant ownership is a tough, tough gig, and Doug has done it with smarts and a fine balance of gravitas and joie de vivre. All while closing at 4pm.
I missed the Hot Doug’s frenzy since he announced he would be shuttering last May. My husband’s office window looks over Hot Doug’s and after the spring announcement, he would come home and report on the length of the lines. We always meant to go one last time when things calmed down, but things haven’t calmed down.
Inevitably, when I did make it in to Hot Doug’s, I was always met with the same cool and easy Doug that was so kind to me on that Elvis road trip so long ago. He never failed to ask about the family, the kids, the husband.
When he learned our daughter had died of cancer, he somehow managed to show compassion and sincerity while still taking my order and moving that line along. And he never ever charged me full price. Or raised an eyebrow when I ordered, as I always did, ketchup on my char dog.
As my Dad would say, Doug Sohn is a gentleman and a scholar.