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Hot dog upstart aims for kitchen simplicity in a tight space

Beckoning to prospective franchisees with little or no restaurant experience, the fledgling Franktitude gourmet hot dog chain hopes to ride a simple menu and streamlined business model to success in the quick-service segment.

Indeed, ease of operation is a selling point for the Miami-based, five-unit chain, which aspires to have 25 locations nationwide by 2010. Anchoring its equipment package are a roller hot dog grill, panini press, two-basket commercial fryer and a bun warmer, all modestly priced and easy to operate. They’re sufficient to execute a limited menu of precooked proteins and largely prepared garnishes and sauces.

Franktitude’s signature hot dogs come in beef, chicken, tofu and salmon variations. Each is served on a white, poppy seed or whole-grain hot dog bun topped with choices from a two-dozen-item repertoire of garnishes and condiments. They range from the familiar, like mustard, relish and diced onion, to the offbeat, like hummus, wasabi mayonnaise and avocado spread. Toppings like the latter are a nod to Franktitude chief executive Ari Wurmann’s native Chile, where hot dogs are lavishly slathered.

The best-seller on the menu is the D.I.Y. Frank, which comes with a choice of four toppings. Following closely is the Chili Cheese Frank. Also popular are such specialties as the Unique Frank, which is topped with avocado spread, wasabi mayonnaise, tomato and bacon bits; the Completo Frank, with cheese, avocado spread, tomato and mayonnaise; and the Fiery Frank, with cheese sauce, jalapeno peppers, special salsa and diced onions. Each is priced at $2.99 or $5.49 as a combo with one side item and a medium soft drink. In addition, there are a few premium offerings, such as the Panini Frank, an extra-long hot dog topped with cheese, chili, French fries and bacon and then panini-pressed in a bun, priced at $4.49. Side dishes include French fries, sweet potato fries and corn on the cob.

The Franktitude concept is designed so that even newcomers to the restaurant industry could run it, said Terence “T.C.” Clemmons, chief operating officer.

“We designed the whole operation so that someone with no experience could walk in and operate it,” said Clemmons, who noted that Franktitude’s first franchisee, in fact, came from the banking field. “She was perfect to move into a Franktitude.”

The investment for kitchen equipment and smallwares is $25,000 to $30,000, Clemmons said. That’s less than what some other concepts might pay for a single piece of equipment. A store can fit into a footprint as small as 600 square feet in a food court or airport terminal, or as large as 2,000 square feet with 50 seats in downtown Miami.

Franktitude’s key piece of equipment is the roller grill, which holds six dozen franks. Its two independently controlled temperature zones have a high setting for heating franks to serving temperature and a lower one for holding them. The company chose roller grilling over boiling or steaming because it allows fat to drip off the franks between the heated roller bars as they revolve. That’s a point of difference for Franktitude, which touts its fare as being more healthful than the fast-food norm. A typical customer is a professional woman with kids in tow, Clemmons said.

Also useful is an electric bun warmer in which water is added to create the proper humidity for a soft, warm bun. The company ruled out using a steamer for warming buns because of the potential for burns, Clemmons said.

Franktitude also uses a clamshell-style panini grill, which presses the Panini Dog and heats tortillas for wrap sandwiches. It sports nonstick cooking surfaces and quick temperature recovery.

Franktitude’s French fries and sweet potato fries are cooked in a basic two-basket electric fryer that holds 35 to 55 pounds of cooking oil. Because there are no hand-breaded food items to leave crumbs behind, there is no need for a deep-bottomed fry kettle or an internal filtering system — features that would raise costs for franchisees.

In addition to heating franks, the roller grill doubles as a merchandising showpiece. Clemmons likes franchisees to keep it stocked with fresh product even during the slack business times.

“We always want to have an appetizing display,” he said.

TAGS: Operations
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