If you were to take a stroll down Pacific Avenue in 2005, you’d have come across a red sign that stated, “Hot Rod Dog.” If you decide to do the same today, you’ll still see that same sign.
Hot Rod Dog, a gourmet hot dog restaurant nestled beneath UW Tacoma’s Birmingham Hay and Seed Building, will celebrate its 12th anniversary this March. The restaurant is known for serving genuine German sausages.
“We take pride in being able to offer the best sausages available,” says Tom Irick, the proud owner of the restaurant.
“I tried to have a flavor profile for everyone,” says Irick, and he has succeeded. He’s personally partial to the smoked bratwurst, but recommends the smoked cheese sausage to visitors. Because Hot Rod Dog offers a multitude of choices, every customer is sure to find a sausage that satisfies their palate.
Irick first decided to open the store when his son was unable to find a job in high school, which made him think that opening a restaurant “could be a good opportunity for him to learn about small businesses.” After spending 30 years in the corporate world, Tom believed he couldn’t find a single good sausage or hot dog around so he decided to start making them himself.
“I’ve always been a hot rodder all my life,” says Irick, who has decorated Hot Rod Dog in a vintage car theme due to his self-proclaimed “love of cars.” He says he “started a business called Acme Rod and Custom at the same time as this,” and the photos of cars that adorn the walls are cars that he renovated himself. The condiments table and the counter both sport the back of a car.
During the 12 years Hot Rod Dog has been in business, Irick has faced a variety of setbacks and changes. Business has grown more competitive and parking has grown increasingly limited. Maintaining low costs and fair prices has proved to be an uphill battle, and sometimes customers have a hard time finding the place.
Despite the struggles, however, Hot Rod Dog remains thriving, drawing customers from all over the area. Irick credits his success to the way he has stuck to serving one specific product. He’s watched other restaurants nearby fail after trying to be too many things at once, and learned to stick to making hot dogs, which is what he does best.
To help others emulate his success, Irick recommends that aspiring small business owners carve out a niche for themselves by offering a product nobody else is selling. “If you offer a good product for a fair price,” he advises, “you will have customers for life.”
Most rewarding for Irick has been the chance to create “a business where you talk to nice people all day” and cultivate friendships with UW Tacoma students from all over the world. “It’s very simple,” he admits, “but it’s something I love.”