When a fire tore through the iconic home of Hot Dog Heaven, a consistent Best Cheap Eats winner, on August 31, 2020, the longtime Amherst eatery was charred beyond repair — but the brand, because of its loyal followers, is not missing a beat while the new restaurant is under construction.
Since 1976, Hot Dog Heaven has been serving its classic dogs, burgers and other casual eats. As owner Chris Russo posted on the Hot Dog Heaven Facebook page the morning after the fire, “Hot Dog Heaven is so much more than a little restaurant started 44 years ago by Jack O’Flanagan and Wally Armour. It has become ingrained in the very fabric of what makes Amherst the hometown that it is.” More than 182,000 people saw the sad note and commented with their memories, Russo says.
“It’s nice to see that it meant so much to so many people,” Russo says, adding that this loyalty is why he wanted to keep a presence with the Hot Dog Heaven food truck, which opened with a limited menu on Sept. 14 at the Hastee Tastee parking lot.
Typically, the food truck serves venues like Cedar Point, Blossom Music Center and private parties. But Russo arranged to bring the truck back from Cedar Point earlier in the season to set up shop in Amherst. The truck also allows Russo to keep longtime employees working. “Our longest running staff member has been here for 33 years, and the rest are in the double digits,” he says.
The former Hot Dog Heaven house will be razed, and a new building is underway, with plans to replicate the historic spot as much as possible. The community has shown a tremendous amount of support, Russo adds. Cole’s Public House held a fundraiser and Main Street Amherst organized a collection to help Hot Dog Heaven employees.
“The overwhelming support from city hall, the building department and everyone has been humbling,” Russo says. “Everyone has been very willing to help in any way.”
Hot Dog Heaven is a Lorain County staple — a tradition that will continue. Russo says the goal is to maintain the nostalgic feel. “Hot Dog Heaven is a place where memories were made, first jobs were had and families come together,” he relates. “We will unite together to rebuild, and the tradition will live on.”