Hot Dog on a Stick hasn't changed much in the 66 years since it first opened on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif. - its focus remains on hot dogs and fresh lemonade.
But Hot Dog on a Stick has ventured out of its comfort zone a bit lately.
The chain recently opened its first drive-thru location in West Jordan, Utah, and is gearing up to open its first domestic franchise location in a Las Vegas casino. Both are positive steps forward for the concept that opened its first inline location in Encinitas, Calif., about a year ago.
Hot Dog on a Stick is taking these leaps forward because it's not the "predominant player it used to be," said Laurie Sonia, executive vice president.
The chain got its first booster shot in 1973 when late founder Dave Barham opened his first mall location in Salt Lake City. The shopping mall footprint helped springboard Hot Dog on a Stick to its now 100-plus-unit portfolio in 11 states.
However, in recent years the restaurant chain has found little room for expansion as mall landlords upscaled their food courts and economic pressures put a squeeze on shopping mall traffic.
"We would never abandon our mall business because that's our core, but we need something besides just the mall business," Sonia said. "And, with more people shopping online or at Targets and Wal-Marts, we're just looking to get our eggs out of one basket."
Hot Dog on a Stick also is looking into sports stadiums, airports and additional casinos for potential expansion options.
The franchised casino unit in Vegas is set to open in November. Although Hot Dog on a Stick has an international franchise presence, this will be its first franchise unit in the U.S. Sonia said more agreements could eventually be signed if the partnership goes well.
"We have a lot to learn, with this being our first franchise here. We don't want customers to be able to tell it's a franchised location; we want this to be seamless and it will take time to get it right before we do anything else with franchising," she said.
As Hot Dog on a Stick grows its footprint stateside, it will stick to the West Coast. There are no plans to leave this core market, where customers are already familiar with the brand.
Internationally, the chain expects to open a unit in Dubai in December, with plans also in the works for Saudi Arabia. Negotiations are currently taking place for a presence in Brazil, China, Korea and Guam as well.
Drive-thru unit includes breakfast
Hot Dog on a Stick's first drive-thru unit made its debut in July, and also provides parking and a walk-up window. West Jordan was chosen for the drive-thru test because of the active lifestyles in the area, Sonia said.
Although it's too early to pull specific numbers, the company has been pleased with the reaction and is optimistic about potential future drive-thru units.
The West Jordan unit also is testing a breakfast menu – the first Hot Dog on a Stick to offer morning daypart options. The menu includes French toast sticks, hash brown and sausage on a stick, freshly brewed coffee and orange juice.
"Malls usually don't open until 10 a.m. or so, so breakfast really wasn't an option before," Sonia said. "With the drive-thru location, we could set the hours. In addition, a breakfast menu will be a good idea for our casino franchisee, which will be open 24 hours. The timing was right all around."
To cater to the morning crowd, the drive-thru unit is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Savory chicken tenders on a stick are also making their debut in West Jordan, and will be sold during the lunch daypart. Other markets are testing all-beef hot dogs and seasonal french fries.
"We are just going to try and stick with simplicity. It's what got us here in the first place," Sonia said. "We're very optimistic about these different tests and we'll give it a year to see what has the biggest impact and what's speaking to customers most before deciding what the next steps are."
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