The legendary hot dog is a casualty of Grote & Weigel’s closing. The meat processing business in Bloomfield, a fixture in Greater Hartford for 122 years, had handled the proprietary recipe for the Newington restaurant since its 1999 opening.
“It’s a major issue for us. We’ve been with Grote & Weigel forever, since we started doing this,” Aronheim said. “It's been difficult on their end. I feel very bad for them, they're fine people.”
Aronheim has found companies willing to make his other large dog, a 16-incher. “I may have to settle for that, very reluctantly,” he said. The business closing means he also has to replace the entire line of hot dogs at Doogie's affiliated franchises: the Clam Digger restaurants in Waterbury, Bristol and Manchester.
Some customers weren’t yet aware of the hot dog’s imminent departure. Among them were Tony and Steve Sullivan, contractors from Enfield. The father and son said they stop into Doogie’s a few times a year, when working in the area.
“It’s good, the service is good,” said Tony Sullivan. “It’s an old-fashioned greasy hot dog. You spend a little more, but it’s worth it.”
Sullivan said he was surprised by the news of Grote & Weigel’s closing, but said he couldn’t imagine the big dog disappearing altogether.
“He’s got to be able to find something,” Sullivan said of owner Aronheim. “Grote & Weigel isn’t the only company. There’s got to be someone who can do it for him. If [customers] want to buy it, someone can make it.”
At another table, Northeast Utilities colleagues Steve Testa and Martin Bartel said they’d come in specifically to bid farewell to the two-footer, after seeing the email blast Aronheim sent to his customer base late Thursday. They’re relatively regular customers, Testa said, but he’d never had the big dog.
“There’s nowhere else you can get a two-foot hot dog,” Bartel said. “So I’m kind of disappointed. I hope they can replace it with something else.”
Testa thinks the big dog has value for its own sake. “Even if I don’t have a two-footer, I feel like there should be a two-footer on the menu,” he said.
While some diners chose to eat their two-foot dogs with utensils, experienced customer Caleb Lloyd of New Haven just picked his up and started eating from the end. He’d ordered the Turnpike Dog, he explained, loaded with cheese, bacon, peppers and onions.
“We heard it was the end of an era,” said Rowe said, eating a two-footer for the first time. “So we decided to come down here and get it before they were gone.”
Though the loss of the monster dog is a blow to Doogie’s, Aronheim doesn’t think it’ll hurt business, “as long as I get a very good hot dog to replace Grote & Weigel, and I don’t think that’ll be a problem….I think people may come in and be disappointed, but we’ll have to explain that we can’t get it. But no matter what it takes, I’m going to do the 16-inch hot dog anyway.”
The restaurant enjoyed record sales in 2011, Aronheim said, due in part to carryover interest from “Man v. Food” and active email promotions.
Doogie’s plans an “honorable funeral” for the big dogs over the next two weekends. Customers who order the 16-inch or 24-inch hot dogs (while supplies last) will be entered to win gift certificates in different denominations.
“It’s bittersweet…but it’s part of being in business,” Aronheim said. “You deal with setbacks.”
“We’re going to make the best of it,” he continued. “We’ve always been known for our sense of humor. Our trademark mantra is, ‘Only the food is taken seriously,’ so this kind follows the course of our natural inclinations to put the best side on everything.”