by Joan Allison | photos by Chellie Bowman
Today through Labor Day across America, 818 hotdogs will be consumed—every, single. second. That’s according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s website, hot-dog.org. And now, Memphis’ soon-to- open hot dog restaurant, Doghouzz, will take its place at the table with gourmet hot dogs sidled up to sauerkraut, pickles, pretzels, craft beer and the biggest selection of whiskies around.
The restaurant has four owners: Steve Murphy, Robert Taylor, Nico Zorbino, and Ray
Rico (publisher of Focus magazines). Taylor has been very intentional in deciding to do something in the space that sits in the glow of Crosstown Concourse on Autumn Street. “I found this building in the end of 2012. The front door was sitting open, water was running out in the street,” Taylor said. There was a for sale sign on the building, so he called the Realtor to let him know that the building was unsecured. After the Realtor didn’t fix the problem, Taylor decided to make a bold move and buy the property himself. Crosstown Concourse was still just a dream, but Taylor knew that something great was about to happen there.
But why a hot dog restaurant?
“Hot dogs are trending pretty popular right now. Memphis doesn’t have (a hot dog restaurant) now,” Murphy said. Murphy also pointed to the neighborhood’s dearth of bars saying that only one bar is open after 11 p.m. Everything at Crosstown, including the brewery, he said, closes by 11 p.m. But with the business growth in the Crosstown area, the demand for more food choices and nightlife is growing.
“We’re looking at who we’ve got as customers,” Taylor said. “We’ve got 3,000 people across the street (at Crosstown Concourse) who want to eat lunch.” The Doghouzz will be an easy choice — and affordable, Murphy added.
Taylor, who will oversee restaurant finances, grew up in the Crosstown area. In fact, his family has lived in the neighborhood since 1880 when his grandfather’s family bought a house. At that time, the area was a marsh where his grandfather would hunt for quail. He said that he, himself, has seen a metamorphosis from a Sears distribution center teeming with people, to the demolition of 100 area houses to make way for the failed I-40-through-Midtown debacle, to the closing of the Sears building, and to the present with the building’s resurrection as Crosstown Concourse.
Though hot dogs are affordable, Murphy says, Chef Zorbino has come up with all kinds of creations that take them to a gourmet level. Nico brings years of culinary expertise to the kitchen, having enjoyed cooking since he was a child. He began his adult career in a restaurant kitchen on the Ole Miss campus before he moved to Memphis to work with Wally Joe at the former Brushmark Restaurant at the Brooks Museum, and then with Kelly English at Iris and Second Line. He was even behind several of the flavors that MemPops now offers. For The Doghouzz, he’s created a menu of gourmet hot dogs that would do any chef proud. He’s also the chief of the restaurant’s pickle, bread and slaw creations. Patrons will be able to create their own dog from a choice of meats, buns, and a long list of toppings.
Some in the community are under the mistaken impression that this will strictly be a gay bar, probably because Murphy and business partner Taylor have owned a gay bar, The Pumping Station, for 18 years (which Rico laughingly says is a lot of time in ‘gay years’). And in the past, there have been two gay bars at 1349 Autumn: a place called Oops, then Autumn Street Pub, and the Metro, which closed several years ago. But the owners say that The Doghouzz will welcome anyone: straight, LGBTQ+, adults, children…everyone.
During the day, the restaurant will serve up hot dogs to all ages, but at night, Murphy says that The Doghouzz will be a 21-and-up the place, bar. There will still be food served in the evening, and on Saturday nights, there will also be entertainment. “We will have weekly events on Saturday nights, like dance parties with DJ Record Player,” says marketing partner Ray Rico. “And there will be room for other acts.” Rico says that it will be his job to bring Taylor and Murphy’s vision to light.
Of the venture, DJ says, “I’m excited to bring my Record Player’s Saturday Night Social events to The Doghouzz. After many years of being a DJ, remixer (for labels in the US and abroad, and artists like RuPaul and Scissor Sisters), producer, and of performing all
over the place, it will be fun to do something regularly in the Midtown/Crosstown area of Memphis.
“The idea behind my Saturday Night Socials is to bring together all kinds of people and show them a great time. My signature sound at the events will be a mix of music that is uplifting, positive and fun. Whether at big clubs, packed bars, rooftop events or music industry/celebrity soirees … I try to take the crowd on a journey, often incorporating music from different genres and decades, all artfully blended together,” he said.
All of the partners are being intentional about carving out opportunities for fundraising events for the community, so the restaurant will close on Sundays to make time for those activities. In fact, they’ve already got events in the works with community organizations and other local businesses that want to help raise money.
The restaurant is in the throes of construction at the moment, with its opening set for this month. Hours will be Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Closed Sundays.