I liked the story of George Karpouzis’ The Hot ‘N Dog because it has all the elements one wants to see in an employee or a small business entrepreneur: passion and a positive mindset. The small shop, located at 216 Close Avenue at Queen Street West (one block east of Lansdowne running south from Queen) apparently has four schools nearby.
In an article in The National Post, they observed
While the bourbon and Mexican food of Grand Electric may be the neighbourhood’s hottest spot for the 25-to-40 set, among under-19s The Hot N’ Dog is the place to be. Open since Dec. 5, the wiener slinger has become an institution for the young scholars of Close Avenue faster than you can say “give me the works.”
To step inside is to be swaddled in a fine warm mist from the steamer — a challenge for customers wearing glasses, who struggle through foggy lenses to make out a chalkboard listing the 40 toppings available. From pineapples and jerk sauce to pizza sauce and sauerkraut, it’s a veritable plethora.
An energetic 38 years old, owner Karpouzis may seem miscast as the kindly hot dog man of Parkdale. But he’s been training: He also owns The Coolest Little Ice Cream Shop in Stouffville and knows his young audience. He banters mirthfully and age-appropriately with his young diners (“Dijon? Gotcha! Ah, an aristocrat!”).
It’s lunchtime on Friday and Yang, 13, can’t figure out what kind of dog to leash. Karpouzis nudges her toward the Breakfast Dog, which features maple syrup and bacon bits. If that doesn’t appeal to you, it’s only because you’ve finished Grade 8.
All hot dogs, regardless of toppings, cost $3.99, which includes chips and pop (no diet brands). Veggie dogs are available at the same price; Karpouzis himself is a vegetarian. The hot dogs are steamed and dripping with fixings. To a Torontonian palate used to grilled sausages from a street cart, these have a certain innocent, carnivalesque flavour. The bestseller is the El Nacho, a gloopy thing with olives floating in salsa, and plain chips providing a bit of crunch. A gourmand’s dream it is not, but that’s hardly the point.
Yang finishes her Breakfast Dog and heads out with her friends. “Did you like it?” Karpouzis shouts after her.
“Yes, I loved it!” she replies.
“Go on Facebook and tell everybody about it, OK?”
Karpouzis knows social media is the path to his young clients’ hearts. “Twitter and Facebook — if you don’t utilize what it’s there for, you’re an idiot,” he says.
He also gets to know his customers as part of a personal smell-the-roses philosophy. “Be good, be respectful, be nice and the karma will come right back to you,” he says.
Karma or no, the customers do keep coming back. Every 12th wiener is free under a loyalty card system, and several local kids are already on their second and third cards. Take Rowan, 16. He’s one of many customers who make a habit of grabbing hot dogs for lunch and an after-school snack on the same day. He’s already worked through two loyalty cards — 24 dogs — over the 14 school days the place has been open.