Shop Talk With Cincinnati’s Hot Dog King

Dan Wright has been building his hot dog empire since Senate OTR opened in 2010. A mere million links later, he and his wife Lana opened a second location at Summit Park in Blue Ash in May, extending their realm to the suburbs.

Why hot dogs? A lot of people were doing burgers, pizza, and tacos, but I was always a hot dog person. I grew up in Chicago, but even in L.A. we always ate hot dogs. I think there’s burger people and hot dog people and if I had to choose, I’d always eat a hot dog. Obviously, the economy also took a shit around that time and changed the game for food in general. You had a lot of classically trained chefs that started taking a much more casual approach.

I know Senate has always purchased their hot dogs from Avril-Bleh & Sons. Did you and Len Bleh come up with that blend together? It’s our blend that we came up with at the restaurant. But the recipe has changed a little bit from the original. Len has had to re-do his game plan because now he has a different smoker.

How many hot dogs a week does Senate OTR go through? Somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 every week. In the summer probably closer to 1,500. And about 3,000 to 4,000 a week out in Blue Ash.

Do you think you’ve sold a million yet? I did the math on it. If not, we’re damn close.

What makes a good hot dog? Some of my favorite places just serve a simple dog. Costco has a legit hot dog. Another one of my favorites is Home Depot. Every Chicago Home Depot has a hot dog stand where you’re walking out. Sometimes I’d make excuses to go to Home Depot so I could get two Chicago-style hot dogs. At Senate we doll them up, but there’s something to be said for simplicity. You can literally be dragging two kids out of Costco while eating a hot dog.

When you create a specialty hot dog—like the Nacho Man Randy Savage—what comes first: the clever name or the nachos? It happens both ways. Take the Okra Winfrey. What rhymes with Oprah? Okra! OK, now what works with okra? Nacho rhymes with macho so that was easy. Sometimes it’s just whatever TMZ is talking about becomes a dog. But honestly, the cooks love it. Nobody wants to work at a place where you don’t have a creative outlet. It quickly becomes stale and corporate and no one evolves.

In May you opened a second location at Summit Park in Blue Ash. Why a park in the ’burbs? There’s a built-in audience. Sometimes I look out and there’s 1,100 minivans. This restaurant evolved because of who Lana and I are now. We live five minutes [away]. I’ve gone to restaurants because I had to feed my kids—places like Red Robin where the kids are happy but the food is just shit. I don’t really want to eat there. I love building a restaurant that serves food that my kids want to eat and that I legitimately crave. And that also sells cocktails and beer.

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