In more than one occasion I would catch myself staring into the soulless display of hot dogs through a grimy window at the local 7 Eleven and ask the question we all usually ask when grabbing a meal at 7 Eleven, why am I here? What happened to the great American culinary guilty pleasure of the Hot Dog? In the United States alone it is estimated 20 billion hot dogs are consumed yearly, which is why I found it a bit disturbing to discover how hard it was to find an authentic hot dog spot in San Jose. Considering this town is well known for spawning a world famous competitive eater with a specialty in hot dogs it makes it all seem even more piteous. After a look around it seemed like there was no longer a place to get an old school taste of a great hot dog. The Southbay food scene has left the traditional food item behind and under a convenience store heat lamp as a sad reminder of a prosperous time for the once beloved hot dog.
That’s where Dolly’s Hot Dawgs comes in and it most likely is the last authentic hot dog stand in San Jose. Not just a hot dog stand that pops out occasionally at night on a weekend outside of event centers that offer an overpriced stomach cleansing, but one that is out on regular day hours to feed both workers on lunch breaks and anyone passing by craving for a taste of American glory.
Dolly Martin runs the stand herself and she is a character who’s cheerful demeanor is infectious. Always greeting you with a smile and happily available to share a story while you put together your hot dog to your own liking at a counter underneath her umbrella shade. From large hot links to delicious beef kosher dogs, this spot has what you didn’t think you needed from a hot dog. I was impressed so much by the quality I had to revisit on several occasions for a bite while putting together this interview. On a sweltering summer day I was able to sit down with Dolly for a chat.
Jorge M Sanchez: I really love your hot dog stand, we don’t see any more of these in San Jose these days.
Dolly Martin: Well they got so many rules on the hot dog stands that it is hard to stay in business. They got so many regulations. When I first started, they didn’t have any of that, it was just some basic permits. Now it is a little different and it’s harder to get into the business. It looks easy but it is much harder these days.
JMS: What is the biggest challenge running a hot dog stand?
DM: For me it hasn’t been a challenge because I have been doing it for over 30 years so I just deal with what comes around. I am used to setting up and dealing with people who are always mostly nice. The people are probably why I’m still doing this.
JMS: How did this all get started?
DM: I was in acting school and working as a secretary at the time and ended up getting fired. I walked up to the hot dog guy who was across the street and I said, “You are not gonna see me anymore!” and he says “Why?” and I explained I got fired. So he says, “You know what, do you want to work for a few hours for me until you find something?” At the time I thought working at a hot dog stand was totally beneath me. I asked him if I could think about it. Since I was in acting school, the lessons were very expensive and I agreed to do it. Two months later he told me he was planning to sell his stand. I didn’t have the money but I sold my Dune Buggy that I brought over from Utah. I sold it at the price the hot dog guy wanted for the stand.
JMS: So two months in you were already committed to it.
JMS: What was it about it that hooked you in?
DM: At the time it wasn’t meant to be a living, it was just to make ends meet. What attracted me to it was the people because I am good with people, and also the fact that it was my own business. I didn’t have to be worried about getting fired.
JMS: (chuckles) Right, you can set up your own rules and hours.
DM: Yeah and also when I found out that in the acting world it was much more than just going to school for it, I realized I was not gonna make it, even with the movies I was already in. You got to know somebody and have an agent. Before I knew it I just ended up running a stand for so many years.
JMS: But it seems you don’t regret it, it feels like it brought joy to you.
DM: It did, I ran into a lot of different people. Like once an entourage of white Mercedes pulled up and a bunch of big guys got out of them. One big guy came up to me and said, ” I am Bubba Paris from the 49ers”. He wanted me to do a fundraiser which I ended up not doing, but it was interesting to have someone like him approach me. He must have heard so much about me. That is just one of many. I put all my energy I had for the acting world into the business.
JMS: It seems you and your hot dog stand is well known from word of mouth.
DM: That is probably from years of just being around. I have a good reputation and that is important for a little business like this.
JMS: What makes your stand so interesting and different is it’s variety of sausages.
DM: I have 3 to 4 different hot dogs and 4 different kinds of sausages. It really is hard in a small stand to have too many options, but I keep certain things because of the different people who come here for certain items. I got customers who have been coming here for more than 20 years. That’s a long time for a hot dog stand. The people have always been good with me. That’s what keeps me going, how people treat me and they sense I am a person who is easy to get along with and love my personality. I have been featured in articles, TV, and radio over the years. That’s just from the things I have been doing for the business like wearing costumes. I am not wearing a costume now but soon I got my next costume coming, a hard hat with a belt to put the mustard, ketchup, and tongs.
JMS: It is interesting that you were able to insert a theatrical element into your business.
DM: Yes! It is stuff I learned in acting school. And whatever talent I have, I put into this.
JMS: Do you serve people in character?
DM: Yes, occasionally I do.
JMS: What is the most popular hot dog people get in this town?
DM: That would be the hot link. The hot link is the bestseller. But in general all of them are great and that is big thanks to Los Gatos Meat, they are a great company and I have been with them always.
JMS: You source your meat locally?
DM: Yes, it is very important in this busy city to get a product that has a good recipe. The recipe I got for all my sausages was originally from a German who sold the recipe to an Italian in Los Gatos and now the Italian guy is a millionaire. The recipe alone made the meat popular. They are the only ones I ever used.
JMS: Were you always located at the corner of Oakland Rd and Gish?
JMS: What is it about this spot that had you stay for so many years?
DM: Originally I had a spot briefly down the street (points towards south Oakland Rd) but they took that spot away from me. So when Officer Hogate from the Permit Unit Office was retiring and found out they were taking the location away from me he said, “Look, before I retire I am going to find you a spot”. This is where he found the spot and I have been here for 30 years.
JMS: Why were you moved?
DM: Well because they changed the rules which have been changed since. At that time they said I could not be on private property. I went across the street and then a bus stop took my spot away. So here I am because Officer Hogate made it happen.
JMS: It seems you have a huge support from the community, did you imagine being this well known? You were down on your luck when you started and now you are here.
DM: Not at all. Especially with a hot dog stand – having one doesn’t make it appealing. But it is about what you make do with it that makes it; having fun and serving good food.
JMS: Dolly it has been a pleasure talking, I think I am ready for another Polish hotdog for the road.
DM: Good! (Laughs)