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Hot Wiener Joint Rosco's Moves To Downtown Hartford

Running With The Big Dogs

By WILLIAM WEIR, Courant Staff Writer

November 09, 2007

When Ellen DeGeneres' website declared Rosco's Big Dog to have among the 10 best hot dogs in the country last month, it was certainly a boon for Ron Reisner's business. Or it would have been if it had been open.

After closing his Franklin Avenue location last December, Reisner scrambled to open Rosco's newest incarnation in a small food court on Temple Street, a narrow one-way off Main Street. He finally opened his doors Nov. 1, with a candid warning on the door telling customers (or "guinea pigs," according to the sign) that he's still working out some of the kinks.

DeGeneres' website put his hot dogs in the same league as Nathan's Famous in Coney Island and Chicago's Superdawg Drive-In. Suddenly, Reisner was getting e-mails from around the country asking for directions to his place.

"I saw that and thought, 'How the hell did this happen?'" says Reisner, who moved to the Temple Street location for a bigger space and more foot traffic. "God knows, I've never met Ellen DeGeneres."

So if he's been closed for almost a year, how did Ellen DeGeneres, of all people, find out about Rosco's? Reisner's been too busy opening the new location to look much into it (it's also unclear whether Ellen has actually had a Rosco dog).

But word of mouth is a big factor in marketing. Aficionados talk about their discoveries and will travel a good way for the next one. And since it opened in 2002, Rosco's has won enough praise that word has traveled significantly.

Back when he was an assistant vice president at CIGNA, Reisner, 42, spent much of his time seeking out the best dogs and thinking a lot about them. He once wrote a dissertation on the history and cultural significance of the hot dog ("just for myself I had to get it out of my head"). In a single (very long) sentence, he'll rattle off 10 or 15 places around the country by name and weave that into his theory about why the appeal of hot dogs is so regional. ("This is why you don't have the McDonald's of hot dogs.") So when he got downsized from the corporate life, opening a hot-dog restaurant seemed a given.

Rosco's menu is peppered with creations you'll find nowhere else. There's the Cali, which comes with avocado, bacon, tomato, mayonnaise and salt and pepper. Some of the items, like the Hot Chihuahua and the Die Flieder, feature his own horseradish mustard. There's also Rosco's BIG Dog a foot-long quarter-pound dog.

Even the most adventurous might balk at the P'nut Mutter a combination of bacon, shredded cheddar cheese and peanut butter on a hot dog. Reisner says he sells four or five a day but admits it's only for the most die-hard peanut butter fan, and even then, only once in a while.

He gets his hot dogs from a company in New Jersey (he won't say which the hot-dog scene is a competitive one). The choice was based on a team of testers he assembled, including connoisseurs who can discern between a Hummel and a Nathan, plus some casual hot-dog eaters.

He expects to have a grand opening sometime in the next few weeks. Until then, he's honing the operation. He's quick at the register, estimating his average as one minute per customer. But if you've got 30 in line, that's not good enough. So he hopes to get a second register and train someone else. He's also tweaking the menu, according to what sells. Inching their way to the chopping block are Rosco salads - Reisner's nods to the healthful have been among the worst sellers so far.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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