After Retirement, He Found New Career with Hot Dog Cart as Chicago Don
Wed, 06/24/2015 - 20:26 RCN Newsdesk
Chicago Don makes the best hot dogs in Northern Kentucky. He thinks so, and so do lots of others. What's the secret?
"Celery salt," said Don Albrecht, better known by the monkier, Chicago Don, at his stand during the Covington Garden Tour last weekend. "I'm just kidding, it's not a secret."
Three years ago, Chicago Don retired from a sales job in the food manufacturing industry and began to dip his toes into the steamy waters of the hot dog trade by providing late night snacks at wedding receptions. He soon learned that it was a viable income source based on the rousing response his hot dogs received from those who tasted them. Now, it has become a happy day-to-day operation for Albrecht who has no plans to quit anytime soon.
"I was just doing it as a weekend thing three years ago and now this is what I will do for the rest of my life until I die. I'm not retired," Albrecht said. "I said I got to try this out one day and to just do it. I'm five days a week now, all the time at events people call me and set me up. Some of them want me to come out and do lunches for their company."
The different paths that the business has taken is a constant adjustment for Albrecht as his product becomes more popular by the bite. His Chicago-style hot dogs are all-beef franks, placed on a fresh bun and topped with a pickle spear, relish, diced onions, sport peppers, fresh tomatoes and yellow mustard.
"I bring a good quality fresh product to this market. I honestly brag about it; I really feel that I do," Albrecht said.
There was a recent customer of his that was unhappy that Chicago Don did not offer the standard relish many of us have become used to seeing on a "Chicago" dog.
"In Chicago there was a couple of places that do a lime-green relish and there's a restaurant depot that I could get it from, but certain things you have to change and not everybody gets it," Albrecht said. "I had a customer the other day who got mad that I didn't have green relish and she was very nasty. I told her that I was really sorry but asked her to do me a favor and try it. If you like it, great. If you don't, you call me and I will refund your money. She called me Friday night and said, Don I couldn't find your card right away but I wanted to tell you that it's the best dog I ever had in my life."
Chicago Don maintains such a premium and reputable product because he is very serious about quality.
"I'm very quality conscious. Nothing is frozen, everything is fresh. I get the buns fresh daily," he said. "I'm proud to say that I am the first person in Covington to get this kind of deal. I'm pretty unique. With the health department, I get A ratings constantly. I'm very funny about food. I don't know what you do when you go out to eat but I get upset if I see anything wrong. That's the perception. The cleanliness is important to me and first and foremost refreshment, and I think it's a combination to do it right."
At the moment, there are no major plans for Chicago Don to expand his operation all that significantly because he likes the way business flows now.
"Street vending is great. I own this. This is me, period. I am Chicago Don. When I sat down to do this I said, okay, I could get five carts like a lot of guys do and have people work for me which is great. I do have people work for me when I'm doing bigger events and when I do a lot of cash because I don't want to stop. Then I thought, you know I'm going to do something the way I'm going to do it," he said.
Chicago Don has found success not only at public events, but also catering at private parties and block parties. Some companies will let him set up at their premises to feed its employees a $4 lunch that includes a drink, a bag of chips and a dog. In the cooler months, places like Braxton Brewery will let him set up inside their business on the weekends.
"In the winters, I have some companies where I am able to go inside. Once it starts to get so cold, you have to take a break because I'm very funny about the product not tasting right," he said. "I'm very funny about the bun texture, because if it gets cold, not everything gets as flavorful as it should."
Albrecht has been in the area for some time now, but still holds true to his Windy City roots. Not only does he provide the area with Chicago dogs but remains a major sports fan of the Chicago teams.
"I'm a die-hard Cubs fan, unfortunately. It's been great with the Blackhawks winning this year so I can't complain about that," he said.
Don is a charismatic guy whose passion for serving the community easily comes through from his engaging personality. He is so well-liked, that even his allegiance to the Cubs has no negative impact on his business. He does very little marketing and let's his product do the talking.
"I'm proud to say that my business has grown by word of mouth," he said. "I'm happy with the way things are. If I had a brick and mortar i would add more items, but I'm educating the consumer of a beef hot dog with a bun and putting everything on it. That's the thing."
Story & photo by Bryan Burke, associate editor