Dawn Dawkins Caison has owned and operated the Hot Diggidy Dog restaurants since 2009, but loyal customers don’t have to look very hard to see the essence of the hot dog and burger joint that keeps ‘em coming back.
The Roxie Avenue location is convenient for soldiers right off the All American freeway near Raeford Road. It’s a hot spot for a quick lunch treat. Frequented by locals, Dawn shared that there are a few customers who sit at the same spot every week, and that she often sets the table to “reserve” it for them. You don’t often find that kind of customer service, or loyalty, these days at a simple establishment that makes its living from peddling grilled hot dogs, burgers and milkshakes.
Folks who haven’t dropped into Hot Diggidy Dog since Dawn took ownership will find the interior of the old place updated. To start, making more room she pulled out the booths allowing for more seating, while also increasing efficiency for the line that often forms during lunch.
“My customers are my favorite part of the business,” said Dawn. “It’s like one big family.”
Simply decorated with “celebrity” photos of kids that grin from the walls above the counter, Dawn enjoys seeing those same kids come back, much older of course.
Long gone is the old menu board, replaced now by a chalkboard menu with just eight items. But the most important element — the familiar, comfortable atmosphere — remains the same. And the ticket orders are hung up on a long wire with a clothespin, just like in its earlier days. Some things are better left unchanged when they just make sense.
While Dawn has not added many new menu items, the basic menu is what the regulars expect. “Regulars make up 80 percent of our business,” she said smiling. Adding milkshakes to the menu has been a win. Using an old-timey milkshake maker, they offer vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. Dawn shared her secret: she adds a pinch of malt into the milk served up in the silver old-fashioned style containers that they are blended in. For Dawn, these milkshakes bring back old memories of her dad, the late Mayor J.L. Dawkins, when they would go to Brady's Soda Shoppe downtown, owned by one of her friend’s families.
Both locations combined have 14 employees. At the Roxie Avenue spot, a longtime employee has been grilling requests from his favorite customers. “I love seeing the same customers come in – and they usually order the same thing. Sometimes you’ll have the lawyer and the guy he was up against sitting near the same tables,” he joked – but with a little bit of truth behind that statement, too.
The Daily Grind
Dawn enjoys watching the Food Network and sometimes gets ideas from there, like the ever-so-popular bacon wrapped fried hot dog, topped with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato. “Believe it or not, it’s lighter than you might think and it’s pretty,” chuckled Dawn. “It always amazes me to see women come in here and eat three hot dogs, or a burger and a dog.”
All of the toppings are prepared fresh daily and they even grate the cabbage for the slaw, by hand, giving it a better flavor. “We’ve tried using the machine to grate it, but it just lacked in flavor, the juices didn’t taste great.”
Their most popular hot dog is the Carolina Style with chili, handmade slaw and onions. As with any great hot dog and hamburger, it all starts with the beef. It’s ground fresh daily at Kinlaw’s Supermarket with a special recipe, Dawn says. Yes, of course they’ve won local contests and awards for the best hot dog, too. It’s all just part of the business.
It takes more than meat to create a great hot dog or hamburger, though, and the staff does just that. Everything that goes into this elementary meal drips with the sincerity of the place itself: the grilled-on-the-outside hotdogs with fresh toppings come just how the customers request… some more charred than others.
This casual pedestrian fare might sound simple, but much thought goes into the menu and hot dog combinations. The friendly hot dog joint where napkins are futile and condiment stains are a sure sign of a battle, where everyone wins at Hot Diggidy Dog.
Be sure to check out their daily specials featuring their summer shake flavors with fresh fruits, by following them on Facebook. Hot Diggidy Dog even hosts private military hail and farewells and occasional birthday parties upon request.