TRAVERSE CITY — Word of House of Doggs’ big win on “Food Court Wars” spread faster than ketchup on one of the restaurant’s Be-Bop Doggs.
“I’ve been on three radio shows this morning,” said House of Doggs owner Nick McAllister on Monday, as he prepared for the “grand opening” of his new restaurant location at the Grand Traverse Mall Food Court.
McAllister and his wife, Autumn, won the space rent-free for a year on Sunday’s season premiere episode of the TV reality show competition. The couple own the rock-‘n’-roll theme House of Doggs on Union Street.
By mid-morning Monday they had fielded phone calls and emails from well-wishers as far away as Florida.
“They were people who have been in the area and watched the show and who were excited about it,” said McAllister, 49, as he poured oil into a fryer. Just then Marge Roman made a detour to the counter on her way out of the mall.
“I just wanted to say congratulations,” said Roman, of Cedar, a hot dog-lover who plans to frequent the new restaurant.
The Food Network show pitted the McAllisters against Traverse City food entrepreneurs Matts’ Beignets as the two teams tested out their food products’ concept, menu offerings and marketability. The team that sold the most food on the show’s final “challenge” at the food court got a one-year lease and a framed dollar bill from their first sale. The couple took the prize, with $1,469 in sales.
“People love you guys to death,” said show host and restaurateur Tyler Florence. “They want to see you succeed.”
The show was filmed in Traverse City in November and featured dozens of local scenes, from the City Opera House and Cherry Capital Airport to Grand Traverse Bay and wine grapes on the vine. Besides the mall, challenges took place at Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel, 7 Monks Taproom and Forty-Five North Vineyard and Winery.
China Wok manager Kevin Chan watched the filming with interest and tuned in to Sunday’s show.
“It’s nice. They do a good business,” said Chan, House of Doggs’ next-door neighbor at the mall. “They sell bread, I sell rice. That’s the only difference.”
Mitch Repke and Kim Holmes read about the McAllisters’ win online and stopped by Monday morning to try the restaurant’s “Honky Tonk” and “Rock” Doggs, two of 20 on the menu. Also on the chalkboard: housemade potato chips and revamped “Fusion” and “Southern Rock” Doggs, items developed during the competition.
“We had errands and we thought we should have a hot dog before we go,” said Holmes, a Traverse City business owner who likes to support other local businesses.
The restaurant opened “incognito” on Thursday before the episode aired, McAllister said. The couple hired three new staff and will keep the Union Street restaurant “for the time being,” he said.
“It depends on how they balance each other out. Nothing’s ever for certain,” he said.