DogTown fusion hot dog stand is relished by Milford customers
MILFORD — A young entrepreneur raised in the hot dog business has opened his own place — DogTown — and put a spin on it that is, quite frankly, being relished by the public.
Bobby Manere, 26, whose father owned the popular Swanky Franks restaurant chain from 1987 to 2008, calls his food at DogTown a fusion of Southern California and New England Roadside classic.
Among the offerings are the Zephyr Dog, artfully topped with chili, American cheese, grilled onions, hot pepper relish; the Mongo Dog slathered with bacon, chili and coleslaw; the Duster Dog, covered with lettuce, tomato, a dill pickle spear, hot pepper relish, mustard and dusted with celery salt. The burgers and sandwiches are also creative.
“We try to be more than a hot dog stand,” Manere said. “We want to see you more than once, but it should be a treat.”
Manere’s business, in an 800-square-foot building at 664 New Haven Ave., has only been open for two months but already has loyal customers waiting when Manere opens at 11 a.m. — and new faces show up daily. On Saturdays, the line is out the door.
One customer, who declined to give his name because, “my wife would kill me,” said the food is so good he closes his own business at 11 a.m. to drive back for food when they open.
DogTown keeps it to a small menu because Manere watches over every detail, including homemade relishes, chili and sauces.
The hot dogs he uses are specially made by Martin Rosol’s Meats in New Britain, family owned since 1928.
The dogs have special seasonings, snap, and natural casings, Manere said.
Space is tight, so even the beverages are hand-picked. They carry bottled Boylin soda from New York and Hubert’s Lemonade from California.
Manere’s philosophy is to keep it small to keep the quality high.
“You have to be fully, fully committed to it,” he said.
Manere said he learned from the best, his father, Bob Manere, who owned Swanky Franks, with locations in Milford and throughout Fairfield County, including Norwalk, Westport, Newtown and Bethel.
Bob Manere came out of retirement to become his son’s grill man and now takes the orders from him.
“The tables have turned,” Bob Manere said, chuckling. “I had a little hot dog stand iconic for people of that age. He has a hot dog stand for what people want today.”
Manere said of his son, “He’s done a great job. I’m proud of him … Bobby has really figured it out.”
Bob Manere said his philosophy was always to “create a business and keep your promise” — and his son seems to have absorbed the message.
Bobby Manere once was an avid skateboarder who spent a lot of time in California, and the skater pulse can be found throughout the tiny building — even the food is served on a black-and-white check paper, the pattern paper made famous by Vans, a line of shoes and clothes inspired by surfing and skateboarding.
The name DogTown, thought of by his fiancée, is an ode to Venice, California, considered the ultimate place for skateboarding. When his now-fiancée was his girlfriend, he spent a lot of time in Southern California visiting her and was as a student of food and skateboard culture.
There is skater meets hot dog everywhere at the Milford business, including a bench made of skateboards and a logo that’s a hot dog carrying a board.
The younger Manere wanted to call it Swanky Franks after dad’s place, but there were too many red tape complications with taking the name, as his father had partners. He did carry over his father’s famous chili recipe, however.
Bobby Manere began his entrepreneurship adventure in late summer 2017 with a fully-outfitted, specially ordered hot dog truck from California, traveling to flea markets, craft fairs, breweries and other special events to sell his food. He had been a bartender for six years and while he loved the customers, he opened the truck because, “I was sick and tired of working for other people,” he said.
He found the permanent spot in Milford on a whim — he was washing dishes cramped in the truck and started Web surfing for rents.
The Milford spot popped up, he inquired and it all fell into place. It’s a small building with nothing close on either side — just open space. The building is freshly painted black and white with the checked trim reminiscent of Vans.
The DogTown food truck Bobby Manere has special affection for is on the lot, drawing attention of motorists and available for parties and other events. There is a picnic table outside and there will be more come spring.
Bobby Manere, who lives in Bethel, said he’s glad he chose Milford because the people are “friendly, loyal” and good at spreading news about the business through word of mouth.
“I think Milford picked us,” he said. “The people of Milford welcomed us with open arms.”
It was just him in December and business is so brisk he’s since hired eight people.
“I am having fun with it,” Bobby Manere said.
Customer Jeff McCoy, owner of InTown Automotive, said he and his crew often get lunch from DogTown .
“What’s not to like? Everyone’s smiling and they have the best hot dogs and burgers,” McCoy said. “Everything is fresh like it was made today and you don’t have to get a double cheeseburger here to get a burger that fits in your mouth.”
Scott Eairheart, who stopped in for lunch during work — and said his wife and son also love the place — said the location has housed a deli, ice cream shop and breakfast shop without success, but, “This place is going to make it.”
“On some days the line is out the door,” Eairheart said.
Customer Todd Johnson said, “I love this place. … It’s going to be a regular thing for me.”
“They put a fresh twist on the classic hot dogs and hamburgers. … Everything’s fresh,” said Johnson, a Marine veteran.
DogTown is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. They are closed on Monday.