Forty years is a long time for any business to survive, especially a restaurant. But there are some good reasons is celebrating its 40th birthday this year.
“The quality of the food and great customer service keeps people coming back,” said David Michaels, who has been owner Dan Dresslar’s assistant for 12 years. “Nothing’s frozen, everything’s fresh, and we haven’t raised our prices in two years.”
Hot dog prices were even lower at last Sunday’s birthday bash when the popular restaurant lowered the price of a dog to 75 cents—what Happy Hound hot dogs cost in 1971, the restaurant’s first year of operation in Los Gatos.
A family business from the get-go, the original Happy Hound was founded in Danville in 1968 by Dan’s mother, Dorothy Dresslar, who was at Sunday’s party. In 1971, Hugh, Dorothy’s ex-husband, opened the Los Gatos restaurant. Dan took over the business 20 years ago. Michaels said Dorothy and Hugh remained close until Hugh’s death four years ago.
Michaels explained how the restaurant got its name: Dorothy and others were sitting in the soon-to-be-opened restaurant, and Elvis’ Nothing But a Hound Dog came on the radio. Inspiration hit, and The Happy Hound was born.
The dogs themselves come from a company that customizes their hot dog recipe for The Happy Hound. The menu includes the Happy Hound, a basic dog with sweet relish, diced red onion, tomato and mustard; the Cheese Hound that has cheese added to the basic dog; the Polish Hound; the Mexi Hound served in a tortilla; and a Corn Dog.
Michaels says the most popular hot dog is the Chili Cheese—a dog with chili, onion and cheese. His favorite? The Kraut Hound topped with sauerkraut, mustard and onion.
Although the hot dogs are popular, Michaels said they also sell “a very large amount” of hamburgers and chicken sandwiches.
To understand how popular The Happy Hound is, Michaels said at Sunday’s party “people took over the parking lot with their chairs and tents. We had them camped out an hour before we opened.”
Customers even spilled over into the parking lot.
Besides the 75-cent hot dogs, Happy Hound gave away free T-shirts and served a huge sheet cake that disappeared so quickly, Michaels said, “I blinked my eyes and it was gone.”
There was also live music by Los Gatos band D lux, playing songs from the '60s and '70s, including their “Happy Hound” rendition of Elvis’ song. All the fun costumes were rented from Natasha’s Attic—Michaels said the staff could not have been more helpful or supportive.
Who are the customers who have kept The Happy Hound in business all these years?
“We get people in here from all walks of life,” Michaels said. “From people on bicycles to those in Rolls Royces. I see guys come in here in three-piece suits looking like they should be having a power lunch, and they’re in here eating a hot dog.
“It’s really opened my eyes, the 12 years of being here,” he continued, “how there is no single type of person who likes hot dogs. It’s amazing. Everyone loves hot dogs!”
Buon appetito, amici!