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Man bites Dog

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Man Bites Dog goes from trailer to brick and mortar

Austin Business Journal by Cody Lyon, Staff Writer

Date: Friday, May 27, 2011, 7:31am CDT – Last Modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011, 2:06pm CDT

Cody Lyon
Staff Writer
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Jeremiah Allen had much of what he needed to open a hot dog restaurant: experience in the industry, an MBA and a passion for hot dogs. What he lacked was the money to build one. But rather than give up the dream, he made a plan to work up to it — one that would take advantage of Austin’s affinity for food trailers while bypassing the daunting challenge of raising investment capital for an unproven concept.

“I’ll just buy a trailer and do it that way,” Allen recalled thinking.

Thus was born Man Bites Dog, a 2-year-old food trailer in South Austin featuring local favorites such as the Buffalo Hottie and the Danger Dog, an all-beef frank wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and topped with queso fresco, jalapeños and danger sauce.

Today, that trailer has led Allen back to his goal as he plans to open a 1,500-square-foot, full-service restaurant with an expanded menu at North Loop Plaza on Burnet Road. Allen plans to keep the trailer.

Austin’s creative and culinary genes have helped foster one of the nation’s most successful food trailer cultures, with names like Biscuits and Groovy and Garage Ma Hall. Often, food trailers serve as product stages and launching pads for permanently based restaurants.

Tiffany Harelik, who covers the food trailer business and runs trailerfooddiaries.com, said Allen is joining about eight food trailer entrepreneurs who took similar paths from mobile to concrete facilities. Harelik, who has a food trailer cookbook coming out next fall, said Man Bites Dog joins places like Hey Cupcake, Cutie Pie Wagon, Franklin BBQ, the Odd Duck and Barley Swine as trailer-based restaurants to expand to brick-and-mortar locations.

Allen’s upbringing in the restaurant business includes a long stint at Billy Martin’s Tavern in Washington, D.C., an MBA from Texas State University    and his real-life time with barbecue, perhaps most important, tackling and flipping a dog on the grill.

His entrepreneurial inspiration came during a trip to Chicago, where he discovered “all these great hot dog places” and realized “how much I love hot dogs.”

Once home, he started developing his own sauce and sausage recipes for fun, while seriously thinking about how to open a gourmet hot dog restaurant here in the Lone Star State.

Cost control

The basic costs of building a restaurant run about $300 per square foot, said Shawn Cirkiel of Parkside restaurant. “You need $150 to $200 [per square foot] for the build out. Then, you add in furniture, fixtures and equipment; that’s usually another $100 a square foot.”

In other words, Allen would need investors. And because his concept was unproven, he concluded that starting with a trailer was the logical strategy.

Armed with his new vision, Allen found a suitable trailer in Nashville, Tenn., which he brought to his parents’ garage in Oklahoma to outfit how he wanted, with an emphasis on retro Airstream features.

Then he needed to find a spot for it, and in stepped Torchy’s Tacos, a widely popular taco trailer that’s also expanded into bricks and mortar. Torchy’s, which maintains its location at 13111 S. First St., leases space in its big parking lot to other food trailers. So, in November 2009, after convincing the Torchy’s that his hot dogs posed no competition to Torchy’s food, Allen got a lease. And with his trailer set to go, Allen put his original goal for a permanent restaurant on hold.

“I knew I wanted to have the trailer for at least a year,” he said.

Making a name among trailers

Soon after opening, Man Bites Dog began getting noticed, making the top 25 food trailer list at the Austin American-Statesman. Later, his Buffalo Hottie won favorite nontraditional hot dog, and he was named runner-up for best hot dog and honorable mention for 2010 best street food in the Austin Chronicle.

The brand recognition and ensuing popularity on the trailer scene encouraged him to resume working toward a permanent location. He also started testing the investment waters, while fine-tuning a restaurant business plan with help from the people at Torchy’s.

Then, he selected the Burnet Road location, which, while being in “a completely different part of town from the trailer,” offered some commonality.

“There are already five locations in that spot that also started as trailers,” he said.

One of Allen’s first investors was a fan of the current location’s concept and menu.

“This guy had actually come to the trailer, asking if he could work part time at my new restaurant once it opened,” Allen said.

And while that fan had no restaurant experience, he had money. As the relationship grew friendlier and plans for the restaurant became firmer, he signed on as an investor.

Allen brought on Doug Johnson as executive chef, who worked at places like Ra Sushi in San Diego, Mai Tai in Honolulu and Ruben Burger Bistro in Boulder, Colo.

Allen later hired Jere Chioco of Austin’s Chioco Design. Chioco sought to take Allen’s retro trailer concept and create a modern twist for a very nostalgic-style restaurant.

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Written by codylyonreporter

January 28, 2012 at 1:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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