LAKE PARK -- She sells chili dogs, slaw dogs, plain dogs, and anyway-you-want-them dogs -- but three years of hard work has proven that these hot dogs are not your average wieners.
"I make them with love," says Linda Hogan, owner of Lake Dog's restaurant.
Her southern hospitality is only one key ingredient that has made her family business one of the most popular spots in Lake Park -- the other key factor is her skill in the kitchen. She uses fresh tomatoes and onions for the chili and coleslaw and she has expanded her menu to nachos, hamburgers, and cold cut sandwiches, not to mention the variety of seafood ranging from shrimp to oysters during weekday specials.
"One of our big nights is Thursday because I do a low country boil, and we have live music," Hogan said. "It's just a whole lot of fun."
Fun is an ongoing factor that began Hogan's ball of success rolling three years ago on May 10. The 52-year-old single mother started the business as a small hot dog push cart that she would haul to school, recreation, church and charity events in addition to the Francis Lake Golf Course. She believes her enjoyment and need to be involved in the community are some of the reasons she has gotten where she is today.
"I love to be around people and it just makes me so happy to give back to the community," Hogan said. "If I pamper and take care of my people here, I've done a good day's work."
It wasn't until her name and her hot dogs were the talk of the town that she decided to open a business. The search for the perfect location was an obstacle that was hard to overcome, but she settled on the corner of Highway 41 and Lakes Boulevard, directly across from Long Pond.
"I've been so blessed here," Hogan said. "I've got the children, the golfers, campers and the locals and it's just so wonderful."
Even though the restaurant is at the end of a strip shopping plaza, Hogan still manages to maintain a beach atmosphere. A wooden deck was recently built onto the restaurant and a local artist painted a mural of palm trees and a tropical setting on the wall.
Regular customers also contribute to Lake Dog's family and tropical environment. Fishermen have donated buoys and figurines that Hogan painted and bar stools that have been decorated and personalized.
"People give to her because she gives to them," says Sandy Haden, a long-time friend of Hogan. "She does so much to make sure people are happy. You can come in with the worst attitude and leave a happy person."
Another incentive that has driven Lake Dog's is Hogan's 14-year-old son, Tyler. His friends, in addition to several other of the community boys, are the restaurant's largest revenue.
"Young boys on bicycles is what makes the business," she said. "It's like a second home for some of them. They have tabs their parents pay and they just roll in here on their bikes and get something to eat."
Wayne Washington, owner of Wayne Washington Hair Salon and a Lake Park resident, has a tab at Lake Dog's where his two sons, Wayne C. Washington, 13, and Nathaniel, 7, enjoy eating and hanging out on a regular basis.
"It's a friendly and safe atmosphere, and she's very patient with the kids, especially since most of them are teenagers," Washington said. "Plus, they just love the food."
In addition to the local students, travelers from Interstate 75 stop in and grab a hot dog.
"A lot of the times when people stop by on I-75 they come back in whenever they return from wherever they came from," Haden said. "Once you've been, you feel real welcomed."
Anna Spivey, a Lake Dog's employee who has worked with Hogan since the first day it opened, said making everyone feel welcomed is what they do best.
She said the best part about working and eating at Lake Dog's is the friendly conversations that have seemed to make the three years fly by.
"I love it here," Spivey said. "I love the people and the customers and I love Linda. She keeps it entertaining."
When Spivey and Hogan aren't sparking up conversations, they are enjoying the present, reminiscing about the past and looking forward to the future. Each wall is covered in memorabilia and pictures from Lake Dog's customers ranging from newborns to 90-year-olds.
"It wouldn't have ever happened without my friends, family and the locals," Hogan said. "My future is just to keep doing what I'm doing and spoiling my customers because they sure have spoiled me."
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