Growing up, one specific moment on television changed my life forever: Doctor Huxtable (Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show) loading up his humongous hoagie with potato chips. My (sandwich-eating) life was never the same afterwards. Toppings, especially those with an extra “kick” or “crunch,” had to be added to any sandwich I ate. Oddly enough, while I continue to pile exotic toppings high on any sandwich I make at home or order out, my hot dogs remain relatively simple and plain, until recently, that is. Is that because I, consciously or subconsciously, distinguish a hot dog from a sandwich? Or is it because wild hot dog toppings never seem available when I order dogs out, at a ballgame, for example? What do you put on your hot dog when you’re at a backyard barbecue? Ketchup? Mustard? Maybe some relish or sauerkraut if it’s available? Have you ever tried mac & cheese as a topping? How about pico de gallo, bacon and a spicy sauce? Meet Seth Russell, co-owner of The Dapper Dog, a late-night cart and lunch hour truck in Philadelphia, which specializes in unique hot dogs. Indeed, The Dapper Dog cooks up hot dogs like you’ve never seen before: The Jersey Special (topped with American cheese, potatoes, peppers and onions), The Moe Green (topped with asparagus, sharp provolone, and Parmesan cheese) and The Coney Island Express (topped with chili, homemade pepperocini relish and shredded cheddar cheese). Most remarkably, The Dapper Dog specializes in catering to late-night eaters, who normally only have delivery pizza as an option, if they’re lucky, at that hour in the City of Brotherly Love. We recently caught up with The Dapper Dog’s Seth Russell at LOVE Park, where we enjoyed some amazing hot dogs and shared some Chocolate Covered Memories …
How did you find yourself in this niche of the food industry?
While my business partner Harry has a bit more experience in the food industry than me, neither of us has really spent much time in kitchens or restaurants. I spent two and a half years as a public school teacher in the school district of Philadelphia before starting The Dapper Dog. Harry is an accomplished artist and graduated from Tyler School of Art at Temple.
Any child or teenage food industry jobs?
In college, I delivered food for a late night food service on campus. I really only delivered sodas and chips, but the experience forced me to think about the huge demand for late-night food.
Where does your love of food stem from?
What foods remind you of childhood?
Anything on an outdoor grill reminds me of childhood. Also, diners.
Were you a picky eater as a kid?
I have always been an adventurous eater and loved going out to eat at restaurants, even as a child.
Any specific food memories/stories that you want to share?
Generic fast food definitely has its place. I don’t look at 7-11 or dollar dogs as a direct competition to our business. Cheap, over-processed food is definitely extremely comforting, and I will always eat it on occasion. We are a small company and try to have a connection with our customers. This is something that doesn’t happen at 7-11 or large chain restaurants. I marvel at the convenience and prices of large chains but have no desire to imitate them
What do you think of the modern food world (from Whole Foods to franchises like Olive Garden, from the Food Network to Groupon, from Yelp to foodie bloggers)?
It seems that people are paying way more attention to what they eat. My friends talk about new dishes at restaurants or a new beer. I think it’s a very positive thing. Since I own a small business, I will always be more inclined to go to independently owned, local bars and restaurants rather than big chains. In Philadelphia, there are tons of these types of restaurants and bars. I live a few blocks from South Philly Taproom and probably go there once a week. I love just about everything they do. That being said, I really appreciate when larger companies, like the Food Network focus on small businesses and show their kitchens and dishes. I have no animosity or resentment toward big chains. It’s difficult to make money selling food, and if a company figures out how to do it, more power to them.
What recipe do you wish to share with us?
Our coleslaw has actually been a pretty versatile little topping for us. We originally added it to our bacon-wrapped hot dog to create a real backyard BBQ-type hot dog. We continued with this theme by adding BBQ sauce to the dog and then really “beefing” it up by adding baked beans. We have even used it as a side dish for some of our larger, classier catering events. Enjoy The Dapper Dog’s Coleslaw!
Seth Russell and Harry Stormes are co-owners of The Dapper Dog in Philadelphia. The Dapper Dog officially opened their late-night hot dog cart at the BYO “Garden Variety” corner (located at the intersection of 2nd and Poplar Streets in Northern Liberties) in May of 2010. Since then, they have added on a large truck, which “tours” Philadelphia’s food/street festivals and the Philadelphia lunch truck circuit throughout the city, including LOVE Park and 30th Street Station, offering up delicious, unique hot dogs to hungry, Philly food lovers. For more information on The Dapper Dog, visit TheDapperDog.org or follow them on Twitter: @TheDapperDog