A few years back, I became friends with David Hosticka online. David owns the Dog ‘n Suds locations in Montague (which has been in the Hosticka family for over 50 years) & Muskegon, both in Michigan.
David is also the authority when it comes to the history of Dog ‘n Suds; his knowledge came in very handy when I was writing my book All About The Burger. He had also donated many Dog ‘n Suds historical memorabilia to my Burger Museum, so thanks to him, it was very well represented.
Dog ‘n Suds Table of Contents
Dog ‘n Suds History
Year Founded: 1953
City Founded: Champaign, Illinois
Founders: James Griggs & Don Hamacher
Number of Locations at the chain’s peak: 650
Slogan: “…Where Everything’s So Dog-gone Good!”
Champaign High School orchestra director Jim Griggs and chorus director Don Hamacher had heard about a coach in a neighboring town running a successful root beer stand. They figured they too could make a go of it.
Griggs reached out to an acquaintance, a graduate student at a nearby university, who created the restaurant’s layout and design. He then constructed a model of his drive-in creation and called it Dog ‘n Suds.
Why that Name?
Why that name? The student said the name embraced what they were selling: hot dogs and suds, a slang word for root beer. The name stuck.
Griggs, who was giving violin lessons to the children of attorney John Franklin, told him about the idea for Dog ‘n Suds and his business plan. Franklin not only helped find their first location but financed the project and gave them legal advice.
In 1953, Dog ‘n Suds opened in Champaign, Illinois, as a drive-in, employing Hamacher’s and Griggs’ students as carhops. On the first day, with only Coney dogs and root beer on the menu, they did three hundred dollars in sales.
Hamacher’s wife Maggie created the Coney sauce for the hot dogs, and Reed and Bell was the brand of root beer they served.
Expansion by Franchising
So many cars lined up at the Dog ‘n Suds the first week that police officers showed up to direct traffic at night. The success of Dog ‘n Suds led Hamacher and Griggs to leave behind their life of education and embrace their newfound profession, which was multiplying quickly via franchising.
What made being a franchisee of Dog ‘n Suds so attractive was that there was only a one-time franchise fee and no royalty percentage to be paid to the corporation. The first franchise was sold to a woman who inquired about franchising just a week after opening.
Her Dog ‘n Suds opened shortly afterward in Rantoul, Illinois. Before they knew it, Dog ‘n Suds drive-ins sprouted up all over Illinois. In quick succession, the states of Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan followed.
By 1960, the famous Dog ‘n Suds “World’s Creamiest Root Beer” recipe and equipment had been developed. Forbes rated Dog ‘n Suds as one of the top-growing franchises in the 1960s.
There was even a training center in Champaign named Rover College after their mascot. The eight-day course covered the technical, marketing, and administrative aspects of the Dog ‘n Suds business. Upon graduation, grads would receive a master of drive-inology degree.
At their peak in 1968, there were over six hundred Dog ‘n Suds locations in thirty-eight states and Canada, with approximately fifteen new restaurants opening each month.
In 1969, Franklin, who was in poor health, and Griggs, wanted to sell their shares of the company. Hamacher got four of his friends to buy out Franklin and Griggs. At this point, many of their food contemporaries had gone public, and Hamacher thought that Dog ‘n Suds could too.
Unfortunately, the Minnie Pearl debacle, which also derailed Royal Castle, killed those chances. Dog ‘n Suds was sold to the American Licensing Company in 1970.
By the time that Dog ‘n Suds moved its HQ to Arlington Heights, Illinois, in 1972, the number of Dog ‘n Suds locations was hovering around 450. Rover College had also found a new home in Arlington.
Merger with Frostie
Dog ‘n Suds agreed to merge with Frostie Enterprises; they not only sold their own branded root beer but also owned 120 Stewart’s Drive-In locations. On August 12, 1975, Frostie bought out the majority stake in Dog ‘n Suds for $750,000.
Frostie implemented cost-cutting measures that hurt Dog ‘n Suds on the franchise front. They also made the crazy decision to change their root beer recipe, which did not sit well with longtime fans.
Many Dog ‘n Suds locations either dropped the name and rebranded or closed altogether. No new restaurants were opening at this point, and by the end of 1975, they were down to 350 drive-ins. The newfound popularity of drive-thrus didn’t help things either.
By 1978, the Dog ‘n Suds company had shrunk to 140 restaurants. The following year, the retail root beer business and restaurants were sold to two separate companies.
Shining Light on the Horizon
There was only twenty-four Dog ‘n Suds left in 1990 when the company was sold again. Just when things seemed hopeless, a shining light appeared out of the darkness. Don Van Dame, whose father had opened the first Indiana franchise of Dog ‘n Suds, his wife Carol, and his partner, Dick Morath, purchased the Dog ‘n Suds trademark in 1991.
That same year they started selling the “World’s Creamiest Root Beer” to supermarkets in the Midwest. In 2001, they created a new company to license the Dog ‘n Suds brand. The Van Dames entered into an exclusive agreement with Clover Club Bottling Co. in 2006 to have them bottle their root beer.
Currently, there are fourteen Dog ‘n Suds locations where you can still get your Coney Dogs, Root Beer, and Char-Co Burgers.
In late 2017, I held my semi-annual event Wiener Bash, and David drove down to Miami, Florida, with wieners & coney sauce on dry ice to participate in the competition.
We had a great time, and I finally had the opportunity to try one of their famed Coney Dogs.
I knew that a visit to one of his Dog ‘n Suds was now absolutely mandatory.
When I began piecing together my road trip book signing itinerary, I knew in my Charco Broiled Burger heart that Dog ‘n Suds had to be one of the stops. I called David and ran the idea past him. He wholeheartedly agreed.
Marcela and I finally had the opportunity to drop in, enjoy the ambiance, and marvel at the detail that he had put into making this drive-in masterpiece. If that wasn’t enough, the food was killer too.
I can’t heap enough praise on that Charco Broiled Texas Burger with its American cheese, special sandwich sauce, and coney sauce on a perfectly toasted double-decker bun. What about the Coney Dog with its sweet & addictive coney sauce, mustard, and onions? Or how about the DnS Root Beer served in a frosty glass mug?
It was an experience of a lifetime. I wish that there were still some Dog ‘n Suds locations in Miami like there were in the 1960s.
Dog ‘n Suds Menu
Dog ‘n Suds Food Pictures
|BURGER NAME||Bacon Double Cheeseburger|
|CAN BE COOKED TO TEMP||No|
|SIZE||Two 3 oz patties|
|STANDARD TOPPINGS||Cheese, Bacon, Ketchup, Mustard, Pickle & Onion|
|BURGER NAME||Charco Broiled Texas Burger|
|CAN BE COOKED TO TEMP||No|
|SIZE||Two 3 oz patties|
|STANDARD TOPPINGS||American Cheese, Special Sauce, Lettuce & Coney Sauce on a Double Bun|
All About the Burger Book Signing
One of the highlights of my All About the Burger book signing tour was that I finally met Troy Smith of Restaurant Rewind. He drove from Chicago, Illinois, for the signing.
We spent most of the afternoon discussing old restaurant chains in between the signings. Marcela took a bunch of pictures of the restaurant portion of the Dog ‘n Suds Drive-In before the book signing started.
I hope you enjoy them.
Thank you to David Hosticka for all the hospitality. We hope to visit again very soon. It would also be the perfect time to host a Wiener Bash in Michigan, but that’s a conversation for another day!
P.S.: Please visit David’s and my pet project, the Drive-In Restaurants with Car Hops across the U.S. page (click here).
We are trying to keep an accurate list of all operating Drive-Ins with carhops across the United States. If you know of one that I did not list, please drop us a line and let me know!
Visit one of Hosticka’s DnS:
Dog ‘n Suds
4221 Grand Haven Road
Muskegon, Michigan 49441
Dog ‘n Suds
4454 Dowling St
Montague, Michigan 49437