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Seven Questions for Hot Doug’s Owner Doug Sohn

After 14 years, Sohn is shutting down his prize-winning restaurant—and he has no idea where he’ll get a hot dog after that.

Doug Sohn   Photo: Clayton Hauck

When you announced in May that you will be closing your 14-year-old gourmet hot dog stand on October 3, people described it as similar to losing a family member. What did you think of the reaction?

The media has been crazy. We had a lot of reporters and cameras and news trucks coming in. At one point, four cameramen and reporters were standing right by the counter, to which I responded: “Is there nothing else going on in Chicago today?” But the response from customers has been unbelievably cool and heartwarming and humbling.

Why do you think the restaurant has been so beloved?

The goal at the beginning and the goal now was to really create a classic Chicago hot dog stand. The special stuff—the $8, $9, $10 specials, like the foie gras sausage [which got an A-plus rating from this magazine in 2011]—that’s been great, too. It allowed me to stay open.

Not many people get a chance to leave when they’re on top, the way you are doing.

It’s funny, the first word I hear from anyone who’s in the restaurant business is, “Congratulations. Yeah, I get it.” Honestly, I’m just looking forward to working different brain muscles.

Was there ever any thought of handing off the business?

No. Passing it on? I would never. I am not that cruel to burden this upon someone else. [Laughs.] Selling it? The name is mine and I want to keep that. The last thing I need is to be walking down the street and someone yelling at me, “Your place sucks now.”

Are you concerned about your mental state once this place closes and you have nothing to do?

The goal is sometime next summer to be walking around Avondale wearing, like, seven trench coats and holding a tattered copy of [Sohn’s 2013 cookbook] Hot Doug’s, saying, “I am Hot Doug, you son of a bitch. Yes, that is my own urine—what of it?” Honestly, at this point, I’m just hoping I can get to October 4.

What would you like to do next?

What I would like is to be point guard for the Chicago Bulls, but I think that ship has sailed. I genuinely don’t know, and I am kind of excited about that. I’ve been writing down ideas and throwing them into a box. The one thing I don’t want is to own a restaurant.

Have you given any thought to where you will go for hot dogs now?

Honestly, no. I haven’t been out for a hot dog in Chicago in 14 years. Probably the first place I go out for lunch will not be a hot dog stand, I will say that.


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