Visitors to Omaha Nebraska’s Oak View Mall know Chicago Dog 42 for its bright décor and the satisfying riot of flavors of their Chicago-style hotdogs. Talking to owners Troy and Katherine Gaines, though, it turns out the best hot dog vendor in the city has a fascinating backstory of snatching success from a tragic fire.
The “42” in the name of the business is the birth year of Ronald Dazzo, Sr., Katherine’s dad, who started his first hot dog stand together with his brother in Chicago in the 1950’s, relocating to Arizona some 20 years later. Together they perfected variations on the Chicago dog, which traditionally includes an all-beef frankfurter on a steamed poppy seed bun, with mustard, onions, pickles, pepper and tomato.
Ron offered to help his daughter start her own business, but she wasn’t interested at first. “I grew up loving Chicago dogs, but they were our family’s whole life. I wanted something of my own.” Seeking business opportunities at a seminar, she found love instead. A charming young entrepreneur named Troy Gaines became her partner in business and in life.
Inspiration from Disney
A trip to Disneyland turned out to be a watershed moment for the couple. In Troy’s words, “Disney unlocked a childlike part of my imagination, the ability to dream, the ability to do anything.” Impressed by the creativity and customer service at Disney, he started a landscaping business. Starting mowing lawns for neighbors at $35, he began offering new services he learned on YouTube, and eventually had 5 trucks serving 200 clients.
After their children came along, they decided to relocate to Omaha for a lower cost of living and good school system. Always landing on their feet, this time they started a janitorial business. Hard work and discipline enabled them to pay off their house in just four years and add an addition for Troy’s aging father to move in.
Tragically, the elder Mr. Gaines passed away days before he was to move into his new home. Then, the addition caught fire, gutting the house. Incredibly, their homeowner’s insurance company refused to pay for the damages because they did not believe it was possible for such a young family with a relatively low income to have paid off their house so quickly. Three years later, the case continues to work its way through the courts without resolution.
Snatching Success from the Fire
Without the equity of their home, Troy and Katherine had to rebuild with just a little savings and COVID-19 economic stimulus money. Their “can-do” attitude helped them pick themselves up again. “You have to decide that giving up is not an option. There’s no such thing as failure, just learning,” Troy says.
This time, they decided to take Mr. Dazzo up on his offer and bring authentic Chicago-style dogs to Omaha. Restaurateurs warned them it would cost at least $100,000 upfront to meet all the legal requirements and purchase expensive commercial equipment. Troy found this was just not the case. The mall gave him favorable terms on an existing fully equipped restaurant space. He did much of the work on signage and renovations himself and ordered supplies directly from manufacturers to save money. “People think you have to do a business a certain way,” explains Troy. “You can actually start a business with minimal money if you just start small and grow.”
Celebrating with Hot Dogs
On National Hot Dog Day, July 21, 2021, they officially launched Chicago Dog 42, flying in a proud 80-year-old Mr. Dazzo to participate in the festivities. Troy and Katherine put careful thought into creating an enjoyable customer service experience. From the finest Vienna Beef frankfurters and farm fresh vegetables, to a cheerful carnival-like playlist, to an electric train offering children rides around the mall, Troy and Katherine care for their customers with creativity and attention to detail that makes a Chicago dog not just a meal, but an event.
In its first year, the business increased mall traffic, with customers who had not shopped there in years returning to try out the hot dogs they heard so much about in local advertising. Troy has turned down offers from potential investors, wanting to keep the business in the family and have the freedom to implement his vision.
That vision is growing. Troy and Katherine hope to expand into neighboring space in the food court with new vendors: Get Cheezi, Birdy Marie’s Bakery; The Brownie Bar; La Prima Bella (Italian) and the Berlin Barrel (a beer garden). But core of the business will remain Chicago Dog 42, continuing to bring “generations of taste” to new generations.
Check out the Chicago Dog 42 website at: https://www.chicagodog42.com/