Top Dog: Hot Dog on a Stick is a cultural phenom
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Top Dog: Hot Dog on a Stick is a cultural phenom

Top Dog: Hot Dog on a Stick is a cultural phenom

How many 76-year-old brands get a request from an influential, trendsetting celebrity to wear one of their uniforms as a Halloween costume? Returning Hollywood calls is a regular occurrence for Hot Dog on a Stick, a brand founded in 1946 by David Barham, who wanted locals to have a delicious, on-the-go food and drink experience, steps away from the beach. The original location in Santa Monica, California, is an LA-area landmark now undergoing a facelift after decades of serving beachgoers.

Hot Dog on a Stick is, of course, known for just what the name denotes. However, when customers are asked what they think about the brand, what should never be changed, or what is special about it, the number-one answer to all of the above is the lemonade. Our signature lemonade has only four ingredients: water/ice, Ventura County lemons, sugar, and a secret ingredient, all of which is hand-stomped in front of the guest by a smiling Hotdogger—what we call our employees. 

Hotdoggers are the heart and soul of the brand. They truly embody the “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” spirit of optimism and enthusiasm. Hotdoggers are known for being bubbly, energetic, and always encouraging guests to “stick a smile on their face.” Not everyone is a fit for the position, but that doesn’t stop the influx of applicants. Even some celebrities can boast about holding the sought-after position, including the likes of Eva Mendes.

The best part of being a Hotdogger is wearing our bright, eye-catching striped uniform. It has evolved over the years, but continues to be one of the most well-recognized restaurant uniforms: “red, white, and blue with a splash of lemonade.” And, of course, there are the hats. The hats are so coveted they are never supposed to leave the store. Throughout the years, the brand has accumulated hundreds of pictures of celebrities smiling with Hotdoggers in uniform, including Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Spike Lee, Lucy Liu, Mario Lopez, Neil Patrick Harris, John Stamos, and John Travolta. Many of these pictures can be found on our website.

Perhaps this is why the brand has earned a place as Hollywood’s darling. When Hollywood calls, we are always there to lend uniforms, provide design plans to build a location on set, close a store for filming, or cater an important event. We bring the Hotdogger spirit and sunshine. Our film and television credits include “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Stranger Things.” The brand was featured in Billie Eilish’s “Therefore I Am” music video, and some credit the Hotdogger uniform as the inspiration for Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” Super Bowl outfit. The celebrity requesting the Hotdogger Halloween costume? The fashionable Kourtney Kardashian. Our love for Hollywood is on par with our love for fresh lemonade. 

As a brand-building company, our job is to protect everything that makes the brand special, which is why we start with market research to ensure we’re protecting what the consumer values most. Then, we want to amplify our presence in the marketplace in an authentic way. We have expanded in a very strategic fashion, not rushing to open units that don’t align with the long-term vision of the brand. That is imperative with a unique concept like ours. While many of our locations are in malls, where the brand truly shines is in sunny spaces and entertaining places: beachfronts, boardwalks, amusement parks, fairs, and entertainment venues. Our next phase of brand expansion involves working closely with national venues to bring this pop culture phenomenon to life in their park experiences.

A new co-branding collaboration that will come into play in the near future is tied to the 2021 acquisition of Hot Dog on a Stick by Fat Brands. Two of that company’s existing portfolio brands, Fatburger and Johnny Rockets, both also founded in Los Angeles, have that same strong cultural element. The menus are complementary, and we see great value in incorporating items such as our fresh, made-to-order hot dogs or craveable Cheese on a Stick with a fresh-stomped lemonade into their product mix.

On the menu development front, our primary culinary focus is around lemonade innovation, developing new flavors that fit today’s consumer tastes, while still offering tried-and-true favorites like cherry and lime. We recently got crafty and teamed up with a leading, local independent brewer, Santa Monica Brew Works, to release a 310 Stomped Shandy, a beach-brewed, hand-stomped hard lemonade shandy, to commemorate our favorite holiday of the year, National Lemonade Day (first Sunday in May).

Similar to our strategy with lemonade menu development, our food innovation is focused on forging strong partnerships with brands that have a like-minded personality and pop culture following, like Cheetos Flamin’ Hot. When we launched our Hot Dog on a Stick topped with Cheetos Flamin’ Hot and chipotle aioli, fans flocked to locations to try this unique snack combination.

The future is bright for Hot Dog on a Stick, with tremendous expansion on the horizon, more movie and television cameos ahead, our own merchandise line, and an online clothing line with Hot Topic. We are ready to show the world that age is just a number, especially when you have a fresh, Hollywood glow like ours!

Jenn Johnston, president of the QSR division at Fat Brands, is responsible for managing multiple strategic brand teams that oversee marketing, operations, research and development, training, communications, and customer service activities for Hot Dog on a Stick, Great American Cookies, Marble Slab Creamery, Pretzelmaker, and Round Table Pizza. Hot Dog on a Stick has more than 50 locations in 5 states across the U.S.

Published: March 6th, 2022

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