Ben Weingart, age 16, 2015
When walking into the door of Jake's Diggity Dogs at 216 Crown Street in downtown New Haven, the sound of electric fans and the smell of good food bombard the senses.
Jeff "Jake" Russell, of Orange, Connecticut, owner of the restaurant, began his eatery in November of 2013, after closing down his family-owned costume store, the Costume Bazaar in 2012. The Bazaar had been in business for 50 years, and under his ownership since 1981.
Russell, who was in search of something new bought the mochi (Hawaiian ice cream) vendor which once occupied the space where Jake's Diggity Dogs currently stands. Russell says he liked both the products and the location of the shop, due to it being in an entertainment district, simply because of the number of people who pass by on a daily basis.
Russell wanted a business that the Internet couldn't affect as it did the retail business. "There's a lot of Internet business out there," said Russell.
"After I sold my last business, which had been affected by the growth of Internet sales, I decided that, when I do get back into business again, I wanted to make sure that it was a standalone business that could not be affected by the Internet and other temporary upstarts," said Russell. Russell's love for hot dogs and need for a new area resulted in him turning to gourmet food.
Jake's Diggity Dogs is staffed with 3 people, including Russell. He says that his business is self-sufficient, making a comparison to Subway specifically, where, he says, one person can take your order and serve you in a reasonably short amount of time.
Lunch times and bar nights, he says, are his busiest hours of work, which is proven by the number of customers visible around 1 p.m. on Monday. William Ocasio, 42, of New Haven, one of Russell's many customers, says his favorite hot dog is the 'Mac', a hot dog that incorporates mac and cheese. He says, "I like hot dogs, it's something different."
Looking around the walls, it's easy to notice many pictures, which Russell says are of past business locations and old buildings that can be found around New Haven. He says he has an interest in local history, especially the ambience of the city. Meeting new people was a major reason for his choice to enter a service industry.
Only the most expensive ingredients, according to Russell, are used in his hot dogs. The restaurant bakes its own buns, a recipe for which Russell says he came up with himself. Two recipes, actually--one for a plain, potato-style bun, and one for 'everything' rolls similar to 'everything' bagels. The latter of the two buns, he says, are sold to local ShopRite grocery stores.
"There's always room for improvement, always room for diversity," said Russell, who is always looking for innovative ways to improve his products.
The restaurant opens at 11a.m. , but before that, Russell does shopping at restaurant wholesaler stores. When that's done, he sets up and works until 8 PM.