UPDATE: The Washington Post realizes that to sit on this hot dog pricing story is to sit on Watergate! I guess this makes me
Woodward. Or Bernstein. At the very least it makes me Woodstein.
I've been more excited about the opening of M'Dawg Haute Dogs than a vegetarian should be. But I figured they'd offer a veggie "haute dog," increasing my cheap neighborhood dining options. That it's owned by the same folks who run Amsterdam Falafelshop was a good omen. So on Saturday afternoon we ambled down for our inaugural visit. There it was on the menu: The Virgin Dawg, no meat. Brilliant. And it only costs(NEEDLE SCRATCH ON THE RECORD)...$5.50
?! Add in the side of fries for $2.75
and nearly $2
for a medium soda and I was shocked to find myself digging into my wallet for a tenspot. Well, surely this was going to be the Chanel suit of veggie dogs, earning its "haute" moniker and price tag, nestled in a tasty bun next to a generous pile of golden fries. Eh, not so much. It was a thin veggie dog no different in size or savoriness than the frozen Morningstar Farms links I get from Safeway, plunked in a potato bun. The small boat of fries could have fit into my palm. Across the table, my Significant Other was eyeballing his brat and soda skeptically, looking bemused to find himself $8 lighter considering what was in front of him.
None of it made sense: how could the same people who serve up such delicious and appropriately sized portions at Amsterdam be peddling such overpriced fare across the street? Sure the rent for Adams Morgan retail space has to be ridiculous but that doesn't mean you can just charge $6 or $8 for a hot dog and call it a day. A quick Google search indicated I wasn't alone. People were getting downright pissy about M'Dawg prices
and veggie dog quality
So I called the shop yesterday. The co-owners weren't around but a polite guy took the message. A tip of the hat to co-owner Arianne Bennett calling me back within a matter of minutes, considering the message said "blogger" and "prices." Bennett is as chill as you'd expect for someone who, along with husband Scott, brought tasty and convenient falafel to the masses two years ago at Amsterdam. She didn't strike me as the type to sell $8 wieners with the sole intent of bolstering her ivory backscratcher collection. Thus unfolded the plaintive tale of The Little Guy (er, Gal):
* She started by acknowledging that the veggie dog "isn't a good one to judge prices on." Why? Because my grumpy pronouncement that it tasted no different than the Morningstar Farms ones I buy was dead on. It is
a Morningstar Farm hot dog. Until her husband can come up with a superlative, handmade veggie dog, they're using the most popular mass-produced brand as determined by polling on the Adams Morgan listserv, Arianne said.
* M'kay, but that doesn't really explain the prices. Turns out, the sausages sold at M'Dawg come from different producers around the country who hand-separate the meat from the bone, as a butcher would. Arianne said their pre-launch research indicated this is crucial because a mechanically separated dog means you're likely getting bone and all other nasty bits in your dog. And several of M'Dawg's sausages come from organic, wild pig farms where Wilbur enjoys more creature comforts than his industrial pig farm counterparts before meeting his demise. Think more Whole Foods, less 7-Eleven or streetcorner cart.
* But here's the main thing compounding the price problem: because M'Dawg is such a small operation, their meat orders don't hit the 1,500-pound mark that most vendors require to ship a full pallet at a discounted rate. So M'Dawgs has to pay their suppliers retail and they have to have the stuff FedExed to them. "We're not getting any kind of deal," Arianne said. And as for their half-smoke costing about 45 cents more than the same ones at Ben's Chili Bowl? "I'm not paying U Street rent," she said, "I'm paying 18th Street rent." Finally, with their bevy of gourmet toppings (available for another buck--and which I later noticed the girl at the register had just automatically charged me without asking), they think they offer something more for late-night diners than the standard undercooked slice of pizza. "It's kind of a higher-end outfit," she said of her shop.
be some good news in the future. "It is possible prices will go down," Arianne said. When the Bennetts opened Amsterdam Falafelshop they started "at the bare bones" prices and then had to raise them. "That made people really unhappy," she said. How unhappy? "They were getting mad at the people working the register. We thought this time that if we started at a high enough price, we might be able to get better deals eventually and lower the prices."
So there it is. Apparently, it's hard out there for an independent hot dog pimp. I suppose it's no different than the way I pick which hardware store to patronize. Rather than stepping foot in Home Depot, I will always pay at least a third more at 17th Street Hardware, because it's a local, independent and friendly shop. Same should go for hot dogs too, I guess.