One of the great pleasures of my youth was when mom took my brothers and me to the Hot Dog Show for hamburgers and hot dogs. I remember, there was one in Studio City, and one in Burbank just over the border from Toluca Lake. There were a few others around LA, too.
These places were fun, relaxed, had a great atmosphere, and we loved the food. Some kids had birthday parties. You would run in to neighbors and friends ... even the employees would know your name and say "hello." At the time, I thought of it as a kid's place, but my mom and dad loved it too.
Well, that was then ... and things have changed, or maybe even improved?
The Studio City Hot Dog Show is long gone. It was on the corner of Coldwater Canyon Avenue and Ventura Boulevard, next to the Tail o' the Cock. The Bistro Gardens and shops are now there. Gone too, are the little cone shaped paper cups that fit in to the round silver holders.
The Toluca Lake/Burbank Hot Dog Show, at 4300 Riverside Drive (at Rose), is still around. I hadn't been in for over 30 years, so I went in to see how things have changed. When I walked in, I was greeted with old-fashioned warmth and friendliness by Maria at the counter. Maria has been there for 13 years, although it might as well have been from day one.
She is originally from New York, and has a 20-year-old son, who is on his second deployment with the Army in Afghanistan. Maria knows all the regulars by name, knows their orders and treats them like friends.
"A lot of the regulars are celebrities," said Maria, "but we respect their privacy and don't give out names."
"That's the way we like it," added the owner, Leona Gardner. "We are trying to keep the ambiance of the past, while infusing the menu with modern and more healthy meals. We also have added craft beers and wines, Diamond Bakery Rye Bread, sweet potato fries, and make our own fresh salsa every day."
Leona is quick to point out that while the Hot Dog Show serves a wide variety of breakfast, omelets, salads, and lunch items, they still have lots of hot dogs, and said, "We serve the highest quality 'red hot Chicago' dogs that are made specially for us."
Leona purchased the business about four years ago, with a partner who wanted help to enter the restaurant business. The partner is now gone, and Leona owns the building, the land, and a love for the business.
She was retired, having sold her booming school photography business to a national company. Her company, Arabesque Photograpy, had 50 employees, their own lab, and did business all over California. It was a lot of work. Retirement is fun ... But owning this cool, landmark hot spot may be even better then retirement.
I loved my breakfast, and the service, and the crowd. Someone else was trying a hot dog for the first time. I didn't have a hot dog, but the other customers assured me that "they are the best." Some of the regulars have been coming here for 30 or 40 years. Leona said, "Some eat here two or three times a day."
I went in to the Hot Dog Show, expecting to do a nostalgia story. I left feeling that I had just discovered the latest thing. How's that for an "everything that's old is new again" success story.