LOGAN SQUARE — When Skip Murray opened an inventive hot dog joint in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans, he didn’t expect it to take off. But the counter-service spot exploded in popularity, its alligator and crawfish dogs flying out the door.
Now, after conquering New Orleans, the Louisiana native is taking on the hot dog capital of the country, where he’s long dreamt of opening a restaurant.
Murray’s Chicago debut, Doggone’s, opens Saturday in Logan Square at 3301 W. Armitage Ave., across the street from popular bar Best Intentions.
Doggone’s is a hot dog joint “with lashings of Louisiana.” Like Murray’s New Orleans restaurant, Dat Dog, the Chicago spot is all about gourmet hot dogs ($5-$9.50) with bold New Orleans flavors and unique toppings. Alligator and crawfish dogs sourced from New Orleans and fries covered in étouffée and andouille sauce are among the offerings.
Murray sources some of his dogs from Five Star Brand Meats in Cleveland, Ohio, founded by a second-generation German family. The New Orleans-style dogs, like the hot and smoked and alligator sausage, come from Crescent City Meat Company in New Orleans. The buns, which are all steamed and toasted, are locally sourced. Many of the dogs are topped with fresh tomatoes and onions.
“I’m looking for you to say, ‘Wow.’ Then we’re heading in the right direction,” Murray said.
Murray was born and raised in New Orleans like his mother but has spent a lot of time in Chicago, where his father grew up. Opening a restaurant in Chicago has always been a goal of Murray’s. As a kid, he spent many afternoons at Wrigley Field: “I have a tear-stained pillow from all of the games that were lost,” he said.
Despite the success of Dat Dog, Murray could never shake Chicago — and its reputation for great hot dogs.
“New Orleans is not a natural fit for this, but Chicago is,” he said.
Dat Dog started as a 475-square-foot hot dog stand and quickly grew into a booming restaurant with a dedicated following. In recent years, Dat Dog has expanded to Houston and Baton Rogue. After the success of Dat Dog, Murray opened Dis & Dem, a hamburger joint which has since closed.
But last year Murray sold all of his shares in the Dat Dog company to his founding partner, Constantine Georges.
On his departure from Dat Dog, Murray simply said, “They’re moving in a different direction.”
Murray plans to focus his energy on making Doggone’s a success.
Getting Doggone’s off the ground proved trying. Murray signed a lease on the Logan Square storefront about a year and a half ago. It took months longer than anticipated to get the proper permitting and licensing.
“Chicago has a lot of rules and regulations that make it tough,” he said.
Then, around the time Murray got his permits and licenses in order, he had a stroke. Work on the restaurant came to a halt as he went through recovery.
For Doggone’s to be finally opening on Saturday is a major win for Murray, his partner, Sam Elliott, and their staff.
“I’m here to tell the story,” Murray said.
‘It Wasn’t In My Script To Be The Hot Dog Guy, But I Am That Guy’
Murray talks about his life leading up to Dat Dog with an enthusiasm unmatched by most people.
He graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans with a degree in communications. After college, his dad, the Chicago native, got him a job in the kitchen at Brennan’s, a New Orleans staple since 1946.
“Everything I know about the restaurant business I learned at Brennan’s,” Murray said.
From Brennan’s on, Murray was hooked on cooking. His next job was for a fish restaurant in the United Kingdom, where he introduced the owners to gumbo, blackened fish, jambalaya — and all things New Orleans. He went on to live in Paris and then the United Kingdom for more than 25 years. During his time in London, he opened his own restaurant there.
“What started out as a job opportunity ends up being a monumental move to live in London,” Murray said.
It was while Murray was living overseas that he first started cooking gourmet hot dogs. A lifelong fans of the Cubs, Murray joined a softball league and the woman overseeing it asked him to organize food for an upcoming tournament.
Murray didn’t want to organize it at first, but he eventually agreed to make hot dogs.
I got all of the ingredients to make a Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, great American hot dog,” he said.
From then on, Murray was the “hot dog king.” He went on to do hot dog catering for Major League Baseball International for British baseball.
“It took on a life of its own,” Murray said.
After several years of catering overseas, Murray returned home to New Orleans to open Dat Dog, first as a cart and then as a stand. Much to his surprise, the tiny hot dog joint was a huge success in New Orleans, especially among nearby college students.
“From day one, the queue was all the way down the block,” he said.
“Is that going to happen [in Chicago]? I don’t know. What I believe is we will do the best dogs we can. It wasn’t in my script to be the hot dog guy, but I am that guy, and it’s taken me to all kinds of places.”
Doggone’s opens Saturday, when it will be open 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Moving forward, the restaurant will be open 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. everyday except Mondays and Tuesdays, though the hours are subject to change.
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