ORONO, Maine — Two self-professed foodies who share a passion for dogs — not only the furry four-footed variety but also the kind that come nestled in a bun — are gearing up to open what they describe as a gourmet hot dog and burger joint.
Last week found owners Keith Manaker and Bob Cutler overseeing the finishing touches at The Family Dog, a restaurant they will debut in the week ahead at 6 Mill St., in the space that formerly housed Lissus Pizza.
“We’ve got corrugated steel on our counters and rough-hewn wood for our countertops,” Manaker said. “All of our tables are going to be rough-hewn in wood like that. So the atmosphere we want is casual and divey, but the food — the burgers and dogs we put out — are gonna be a gourmet product.”
Cutler, director of baseball operations at the University of Maine, said he’s always wanted to run a hot dog stand. Manaker, who owns Harvest Moon Deli a short way down Mill Street, wanted to serve up up burgers — hamburgers, chicken burgers, portabella burgers and black bean burgers. The two started talking about opening a restaurant in July and by October had signed a lease.
“Great hot dog places and great hamburger places are a genre of restaurants,” Manaker said. “The whole thing is, in any major city that you go to in the country, any region, you find places where people tell you this burger place is worth driving to, or this hot dog place is worth driving to. Literally — destination hot dog and hamburger places — they’re all over the country.”
The two said they want The Family Dog to be such a destination — not only for the UMaine community but for local families.
“What kid doesn’t like hot dogs, hamburgers and mac and cheese? And what family doesn’t want to come in for an inexpensive meal?” Cutler said. “You come in with your family and you have a son who likes a chili cheese dog. A daughter wants a salad and a wife wants chicken and the husband wants a burger — everyone can find something on this menu.”
Besides their affection for dogs — Manaker has a Welsh corgi and Cutler, a chocolate Lab — the two have a similar sense of humor, Cutler said.
“There will be things that he and I think are incredibly funny, and we hope our customers do, too,” he said. By way of example, the eatery’s chili cheese fries will be served in doggie dishes and patrons can choose to eat at the 20-foot-long dog bone-shaped table.
“We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously — hence the name and all,” Manaker said.
“We kicked around a lot of different names — some that were funny to us and probably not appropriate for others, some that we just didn’t think were a good fit,” Cutler said. “At the end of the day, we figured that everyone loves their family dog. You know, most Americans have dogs and love dogs and dogs are an integral part of their families.”
“The family dog conjures up really good imagery,” added Manaker. ”People love their family dog, but [hot dogs are] also a [food] genre. Most dog restaurants, if you go to Chicago or other places — and they have a ton of dog places — use the word ‘dog’ somewhere in their name.”
The Family Dog’s Vienna Beef hot dogs will be served on poppy seed hot dog buns, while burgers will come on challah bread rolls, Manaker said. Besides regional classics, such as Chicago dogs and Detroit Coney Island dogs, patrons can choose from a variety of condiments and cheeses, as well as “build-your-own” options including sauerkraut, several flavors of slaws and handmade relishes, meat sauce and chili. Macaroni and cheese can be turned from a side dish into an entree with the addition of a hot dog, bacon, chili, mushrooms or other toppings.
The nine speciality sandwiches, available as hot dogs and burgers, are named after dog breeds from around the world and matched to a range of cuisines. The American Dingo, a Texas-style hot dog, is topped with chipotle barbecue sauce, blue cheese and bacon slaw. The Akita will come with grilled pineapple and Thai slaw, while the Griffon will come with a French-inspired caramelized onion and bacon relish topping.
Visit The Family Dog’s Facebook page for information about the restaurant’s opening, business hours and menu items. Manaker and Cutler also are working on a website, which can be found at http://thefamilydogorono.com/.