In the News

In the Dog House

Author: Debbie Matthews 
Herald-Sun article published on July 7, 2015

We went over to see The Kid’s new apartment. The take-out was on us so we chose a long-time favorite. A place where the food is consistently delicious and we could get grub that was quick and easy to buy, but messy and time-consuming to prepare at home.

We went to the Dog House. Those funny little faux dog chateaux with the fire hydrant trash cans are liberally scattered throughout the Bull City. If I were making a hot dog dinner at home, there’s no way I could do it cheaper. After I buy the package of frankfurters, the bag of buns, and the various toppings for everybody’s taste, it adds up. Then there’s the fries, the oil in which to cook them, the beverages, and if desired, dessert.

They’re quick, too. Even when there’s a long line of hungry Durhamites, I’ve never had to wait more than 20 minutes, start to finish.

And finally, we get to the food. For me, there is one question about a hot dog that is make-or-break. It culls the herd right off the bat before I know anything else about the eatery. Are the dogs grilled, or are they wet cooked; i.e., boiled, poached, or steamed? There’s something that happens to the fat of a hot dog once it’s been cooked on dry heat. It changes it, and to me, is extremely unappetizing. If the skin is greasy and blistered, thanks, but no thanks.

The Dog House folks steam theirs. So, it’s a go. The menu is two large boards on either side of the enclosure. Each frank is named for a different dog. I love the German shepherd, with sauerkraut, spicy mustard, and onions. Petey goes for the Hound Dog with chili and the Ol’ Yallow with cheese and bacon. The Kid is all over the place.  The plain puppy dog used to be chosen, but lately, it’s been the German shepherd — no onions. Their sides are authentic and Southern. They’ve got beans, cole slaw, and Brunswick stew. But wait, they make crinkle fries: hot, salty, crispy, crinkle fries.

Feeling a little reckless?  They can cover them with lashings of neon orange cheese sauce. And if afterward, you have any space left in your overly stuffed belly, they serve warm, homemade fried apple pies (as much as I love them, sadly I rarely have room).

When Petey and I were dating, back before cattle were domesticated, whenever he came to see me, he’d bring me an icy pink lemonade from Sonic. And while Durham still tragically lacks a Sonic, the Dog House has the very same kind my sweet spouse employed to woo me.  The cups they’re served in are large enough to bathe a toddler. In case you’re not in the mood for hot dogs, there are numerous other Durham spots where one can grab a cheap, tasty, and quick meal.

Bojangles. Home of the too-spicy-for-me chicken serves delicious breakfast biscuit sandwiches all day long. Order their yummy onion-spiked potato bo-rounds as a side. And if you’ve never had one, next time you’re there, make sure you get a buttery, sweet, frosted bo-berry biscuit. It’s great as a dessert, or in the morning with coffee.

Costco. The snack bar’s menu has enough variety to please the whole family.  And it’s cheap enough to please the family’s financial officer. They serve pizza, hot dogs, sandwiches, and salads. And don’t even get me started on their beautiful and exciting vanilla fro-yo.

Whole Foods. Visit the extensive prepared foods department. Two huge slices of fresh gourmet pizza go for $6 (the turkey carbonara pizza is my very favorite pizza—anywhere). They have a salad sampler plate for around five bucks. And a wisely composed salad or hot bar meal will fill you up on the cheap. It is possible to get some good eats on the run. Some are healthy, some not so much. But occasionally everyone deserves something just because it’s good, not because it’s good for you.

Like Oscar Wide said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Now that’s one guy who I think would’ve appreciated the odd plate of sloppy, gloppy cheese fries. Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes, and cooks in Durham.  Contact her at


November 2, 2009

Author – Chip Millard 

The Dog House is a small chain of fast food hot dog restaurants in Durham North Carolina, with satellite locations in Roxboro and Hillsborough.  All of the restaurants are housed in what appears to be a dog house, (as in the above photographs, these of the location in Hillsborough).

Though more popular in the early 1970’s when The Dog House restaurants began, the franchise plays heavily upon the interplay of hot dogs and actual dogs, which seem to only be connected by the fact that both concepts contain the word “dog.”  The building is shaped as a wooden dog house (a relic now, everyone keeps their dogs in their own house, or purchases an injection mold plastic dog house at a big box store).  The trash cans are topped with chain and fake hose connections, to appear as fire hydrants (that everyone who has ever watched cartoons can tell you, are constantly peed on by our canine friends).  And, the hot dog variations are each named after a type of dog; the collie dog, boxer dog, and Ol’ Yeller (here changed to Ol’ Yallow), a hot dog drowned in the same hot Velveeta type cheese people douse on nacho chips.

The restaurants seem to revel in the dog reference kitsch they project.  In the photograph above, located in the service window below a perfectly understandable “Closed” sign is taped another sign stating “Our dogs have all gone to bed, see you tomorrow.”

The Dog House restaurant buildings offer a combination of service usually not seen together.  There is a drive-up window in the tradition of the mega-chains (ex. McDonald’s).  But unlike those mega-chains, one can not walk into a Dog House.  The interior consists of 4′ x 12′ of floor space, crowded with 3 or 4 ladies taking orders and making food.  The other service option is instead a small sliding window, where takeaway orders are placed.  So, since most Dog House locations are not in a “downtown” location or walkable community, a car-bound customer pulls off of the street into The Dog House’s asphalt environs and is immediately faced with a choice.  Do you stay in your car and use the drive through window, or park your car to walk  5 steps up to the side window to place a take out order?  (This choice, in this author’s observation, is usually based on which line is currently shorter).

The Dog House is a great restaurant because it understands the two main concepts of why people eat hot dogs and other fast foods, and delivers on both.  First, people eat at hot dog restaurants because they need that sweet and salty interaction your synapses seem to crave from time to time.  When I stop by The Dog House for lunch, I order a hot dog (I choose the “Puppy Dog,” a plain hot dog on a bun with no toppings. I want to taste the meat and the white bread, and so ketchup and mustard is such a wast of my time), french fries, an apple turnover and a sweet tea.

For the next 15 minutes my taste buds are spun around, as they try to tell my brain that the crinkle cut french fries are hot and salty, only to be introduced to a tooth-achingly sweet tea, cold from the pellet ice it swims in.  The hot dog is also salty, muted in the pillowy white bread bun.  Then, to end the salt and sweet interplay, sweet wins with a hot apple turnover, the best one I have ever had outside of an old-timer’s kitchen (where they make real fried apple pies out of dried on the farm apples and biscuit dough).
People also eat at hot dog joints because their current reality clues them into finding cheap, quick, high-caloric foods.  A trip to The Dog House at lunchtime means mingling with manufacturing workers on lunch break, tradespeople on break from the job site, and others who need energy to replenish from the morning, with extra left over to make it through the afternoon.

I personally like The Dog House because it represents what my mind is drawn to in just about any tangible object or experience; a connection to the past.  The (mostly) women who work at The Dog House locations I frequent have worked there forever, they know me and smile when they see me.  Making hot dogs in aprons and hairnets is something I know I am not going to see at a Starbucks or TGIFriday’s.  And, when they pack my order in a white paper bag and hand it out the window, they always implore me to come back and see them real soon.

And, I always feel at home while waiting in line, standing with those tradespeople, their white trucks, and vans in the parking lot, or the guys in dungarees who work nearby in the industrial shops.  They are like me in that they have roughly 15 to 20 minutes to find some lunch and then get back to work, to be able to finish up everything that needs to be done that day.  The Dog House makes lunch for all of us, quickly and with a smile; two simple notions usually lacking at places our doctor’s would rather us eat, the salad bar or the whole foods market.

5 Thoughts on “Hot Dog 2: The Dog House in Durham North Carolina”
Reader Comments

Great piece, Chip. Enough to make this old hound lick his chops and whine for a dog of his own. I usually get mine with chili and onions and whatever condiments are available, but the plain Puppy Dog, just meat and bread, sure sounds good right now. I’ll visit this fine establishment next time I stop in Durham. Thanks for letting me know it’s there.

Thanks Chip. Just read this and now I’m wanting my Collie Dog (cole slaw & chili)! I’ve been going to The Dog House as long as I can remember…it is STILL my mom’s favorite place to get her hot dogs. I love your attention to detail–right down to the ice pellets (another reason to love this place).

I just linked your article to my comment. Thanks for the history lesson, I had no idea…

We have loved the Dog House for 40 years! Please open one up where I live.

We never go to Durham without stopping off at the Dog House! to pass it up would be un-American!!!! I want to open one in Charlotte real soon.

Tar Heel Traveler: Exploring the origins of The Dog House in Durham

7:14 a.m., Jan 22

Scott heads to Durham to learn about the history behind the famous hot dog stand.
Reporter: Scott Mason
Photographer: Robert Meikle
Web editor: Kevin Kuzminski