The Hot Dog Café, a counter service and sit-down hot dog joint, opened its doors at 7529 Broadway Ave. in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood on October 18. Five days later, The Village Dog, a drive-thru and walk-up hot dog place, opened right down the street at 7321 Broadway Ave. 
Alain Trice, the owner of the Hot Dog Café, said he and his partner, James Dotson, came up with the idea for a hot dog joint years ago, and have been slowly renovating their building. They previously rented out the building, but they decided they wanted to open their own business in the end. Trice said they decided to take over the business themselves to “show it love.” 
“When we are here, we’re giving it our all because we love it,” he said.
Down the street, owner Donnie DeGeronimo bought the previously empty Burger Haven building and partnered with Inca Tea owner Ryan Florio to open a drive-thru and walk-up hot dog place called The Village Dog. It replicates retro hot dog shops, with an emphasis on different and quality food, according to kitchen manager Chris Walther. 
“We’re making the chili from scratch, we’re making the coleslaw from scratch, the sauces are made from scratch, we work directly with the hot dog provider for the hot dogs to create specifically what hot dog we want,” he said. “We want it to be simple, but really quality.” 
While they may have some competition, both restaurants said there are no ill feelings toward each other. 
“There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition,” Trice said. “It’s like Burger King and McDonalds.”
Hot dog heaven
At night, community members walk up to the glowing red and white window of The Village Dog or go through the drive-thru to order a specialty hot dog, such as a Polish Boy or Chicago Dog. They are greeted by an order taker at the window who hands them their deep-fried hot dog a few minutes later, which, according to Walther, has a crunch on the outside and hot dog texture on the inside. 
A few doors down at the Hot Dog Café, customers walk through the doors and are greeted by the smell of freshly cooked french fries and hot dogs at the counter, where they have the option to build their own hot dog or buy pizza, burgers or french fries. In a room across from the counter, there is indoor seating and a TV for diners. 
Slavic Village has seen its share of challenges, from being at the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis in 2008 to, more recently, being hard-hit by the pandemic. Both hot dog shops have a goal of contributing to the rise of the community, filling storefronts that were previously empty. 
Walther said they are not worried about the other empty storefronts on Broadway Ave. or Fleet Ave. in the neighborhood. He said he’d like The Village Dog to help change that. 
“I want to be part of it,” he said. “If you look at Tremont even, it was considered a bad place years ago and now look at it.”  
According to Case Western Reserve’s Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Tremont has bounced back from the 1980s, when its population shrank due to disinvestment and the isolation caused by new highways cutting it off from surrounding areas. In the 1990s and 2000s, as diverse businesses started entering the area, it became safer and more desirable for residents and visitors.
Marilyn Mosinski, interim executive director at Slavic Village Development, said both businesses revitalized storefronts that were previously empty. She praised the new development as a good trend for the community. “They both feed off of each other, and it just proves there’s still life here,” she said.
Serving up a commitment to the community
The Village Dog specifically hires people from the community, including immigrants from India and Romania, who have opportunities to influence the business through their work. According to Walther, one of the kitchen employees came up with the idea for a BLT dog, which he hopes will eventually be showcased on the menu. 
Walther also said what sets them apart from the other businesses that have occupied their space is that they are doing something different. The Village Dog’s long-term goal is to open more locations, at least one in the next year.  
While Trice has a full-time job outside the restaurant, on Fridays and Saturdays he is at the Hot Dog Café.
“I’m making sure everything is ready for the patrons when they come in, making sure that everyone gets great treatment when they come in, and making sure everyone enjoys their food,” he said. “That’s my typical day here.”
The Hot Dog Café is family oriented, and Trice said he grew up around the Slavic Village neighborhood, with his cousins living on Fleet Ave. Trice also said he is not worried about the empty storefronts, and he has already been receiving good feedback from the community. 
“A lot of people from the area are happy, they said they’re glad we chose this area,” Trice said. 
Published in The Land 
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