His encased meat emporium, Hot Doug’s, 3324 N. California Ave., is a Food Network favorite and routinely attracts a line of tourists and locals that snakes around the block. The next logical step for Doug Sohn: a book deal.
“I didn’t pitch it,” he’s quick to point out. “That would have required effort on my part.”
Rather Evanston’s Agate Publishing approached Sohn, looking for a way to capture in print the essence of Hot Doug’s. It most definitely won’t be a cookbook, stresses Sohn, a former cookbook editor himself. “There’s only so many ways you can say, ‘Put hot dog on grill, take off when hot.’”
In fact, it was a former publishing co-worker who sparked the idea for Hot Doug’s. Fellow editor Paul Kelly’s (see menu) experience with a colossally bad hot dog prompted Sohn to investigate Chicago’s hot dog and sausage scene. “Things started developing,” he says, and eventually he made the leap from wondering why it was so hard to find a really great dog to opening his own sausage superstore.
That’s the sort of anecdote Sohn is likely to include in the book, due out in 2013. He describes the concept as a hodge podge of his recollections, including the fire that shuttered his original location on Roscoe Street. “I want to get this stuff down before I totally forget everything,” he says. “The ’80s took their toll — there’s a lot of mush up there.”
He’ll intersperse these memories with photos of people who’ve tattooed themselves with the Hot Doug’s logo, plus stories about the restaurant contributed by customers. That’s where you come in: If you have a tale you’d like to share, post to Hot Doug’s Facebook page or email HotDougsTheBook@gmail.com.
“We’ll make it up as we go along,” he says of the format. “It won’t be this classic linear story,” though it will still have page numbers, he promises. “It’s my reaction to what’s happened at the restaurant.”
The success he’s enjoyed over the past 11-plus years — did we mention a book deal — is not something Sohn would have predicted. “Is this my dream? Oh god no,” he says. “My dreams usually involve Brooklyn Decker and handcuffs.
“I did not go into this thinking, ‘This is a million-dollar idea,’” he continues in all seriousness. Though by now, it certainly could be — he’s fielded a number of legitimate franchise offers that he’s promptly rejected. “That genuinely holds no appeal,” he says of the prospect of expansion. More valuable to Sohn than becoming a hot dog magnate: greeting customers every day, deciding what music he wants to play, and going to bed free from worrying about millions in debt.
“It’s still really hard work, I’m not phoning it in,” he says. “Our goal is still to serve a great hot dog.”