This interview is part of a two-part series about the evolving Chicago food scene. For context and part one, head here.
This has also been edited for brevity and clarity from it’s original version. If you want to listen to the (very much) uncut version (including, but not limited to, Buckingham Fountain’s constant stream of water in the background), you can listen on Soundcloud here.
Brianna: Thanks for meeting us today! I’m really excited to chat with you!
Doug Sohn: Yea, thanks for reaching out! Have you ever been to Chicago before?
Brianna: Yes! My parents are from here, so I’ve visited a few times with them. And last year, I was down here for a 24-hour, eat-all-you can trip with my brother who was in school in Milwaukee at the time.
Doug Sohn: It’s a great city. There's a lakefront. Good food scene. Although, you can probably say that about every city I’ve been too. Except for a couple places in North Dakota. I think someone is doing is something good almost everywhere.
It used to be that if you had any talent you went to New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. Now, you can’t afford to live in any of those cities. But now you can stay in Milwaukee or Rapid City, SD, and if you do something fairly decent, people will respond. And it’s affordable. You see this more and more.
Peter: I think people are demanding it, for one thing. It’s maybe generational, but also, you know people aren’t looking for the white table cloth experience anymore. They’re willing to pay a little bit more money to eat in places that just have really good food without all of the extras.
Doug Sohn: You’re exactly right. And I think Food Network and Yelp and Trip Advisor have helped with that. Now people are realizing that I can stay at home. Or there are places near my home that I can support.
Brianna: Do you do a lot of dining out? Do you focus on trying new foods in the city?
Doug Sohn: When I had the restaurant, I didn’t go out that much. I had every great intention, but I’d get home and be exhausted.
And now, I have time to cook. When I do go out, it’s more ethnic foods and things I can’t make at home.
Peter: I think we would be remised if we didn’t talk about Hot Doug’s.
Brianna: Yea I was hoping the Cubs would be in town so I could please my parents and grandmother by going to a game, and so we could have some Hot Doug’s.
Doug Sohn: That’s the way that it goes. You had 14 years.
Peter: I feel especially guilty because my sister went to the University of Chicago and she said she always needed to have a friend who has a car because it’s the only way that you can get to Hot Doug’s. It became was a monthly thing. People would pile into a car and go all the way up to Hot Doug’s. She took my dad, too. Whenever I came here we always wanted to go, but we never had a car.
Doug Sohn: Well it was hard to get to, and we bad hours and we’d close for no apparent reason.
Peter: So tell us about the sausage business.
Doug Sohn: What do you want to know about the sausage business?
Peter: How did you get into it?
Doug Sohn: My friend had a bad hot dog one day. He was like, ‘Ya know, I had a bad hot dog this weekend. How do you make a bad hot dog?’ And that’s when I moronically said, I think you can and people do. And over the course of a couple years of going out for hot dogs, the idea started forming and I was like oh I can do this. The Chicagodog has a wonderful reputation, but most everyone is just living on that reputation and not on the actual product. And when done well, the Chicagodog is awesome, but so few places were doing it well at that time. I thought I can do it better, or at least bring it back to where it should be. There was a guy doing an Italian sausage, a guy doing a polish sausage, but no one place that was doing a bunch of them.
Brianna: Do you think that your restaurant changed the game and made people push harder or do you think restaurants figured people would just come anyway?
Doug Sohn: I think a little bit of both. The places that were already open, I don’t think they cared. But there are definitely places that opened up that were trying to do better food.
Brianna: So after 14 years, you just decided to shut down. Is there anything that you’re working on now?
Doug Sohn: No. I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do next, and pushing that decision off as long as possible. Baseball started and I just figured I could go to games all season. I want to do something else, I just don’t know what. I know I don’t want to own a restaurant. I don’t want to sell sausage. Might be food, may not be food.
Brianna: Is the Wrigley location an outpost of the old stand, or are you just a hot dog consultant?
Doug Sohn: There’s an actual stand in the bleachers. It’s kind of fitting with the restaurant: a pain in the ass to get to, and not everyone can have it. There are sausages that change every home-stand. My job there is kind of a licensing. I’m not behind the counter, I’m not in charge of staffing. I pick the menu; I make sure the sausage gets there.
Brianna: What are some of your favorite places to eat in Chicago?
Doug Sohn: I get that a lot. Ethnic food mostly. And that’s one of the great things about living here. People doing interesting stuff. I try to go to neighborhood-y, independent stuff. One of the nice things about what’s happened in Chicago is that you don’t have to go downtown anymore. I live on the Northwest side and I live by Fat Rice and Yusho which are just outstanding. Growing up here, it was not a food city. It was hot dogs, Italian, and deep dish pizza.
Brianna: What are some of your favorite cities to travel to for food?
Doug Sohn: I lived in New York and I still love traveling back. I was recently in Pittsburg; cool city with really good food. Good food down in St. Louis. New Orleans is still the greatest food. How much better can the food get there? There are a couple places in Oakland that I really like.
I gotta say, not a bad sandwich in Dollywood, either. I rented an RV and traveled around the Smoky Mountains for two weeks, and by law if you travel to the Great Smoky Mountains you have to go to Dollywood.
France is awesome. For me, it’s bread, butter, and wine. You buy a piece of cheese and I’m in heaven.
Almost everywhere, I have found something worth eating.
Brianna is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Hook & Blade. She is based out of New York City where she enjoys exploring the city, trying new foods, and people watching. She works as the Global Email Marketing Manager at Global Citizen, and tries to travel as much as she can.