Hot Dog Q&A With Richard Pink

Is there anything about Pink's that hasn't been said? Hard to imagine. Even detractors define themselves by it. But you won't find many of those, just check out the line. In this interview with the owner, Richard Pink, find out what goes into making good chili for topping hot dogs; which hot dog has links to the Lakers, the Matrix, and the song, "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog;" and how Orson Welles' chili dog record has lasted.


The New York Times reported in 1999 that Pink's served 21 kinds of hot dogs, and up to 2,000 a day. Has this changed?
We have 35 varieties of hot dogs and toppings. We also have 12 varieties of hamburgers.  We sell on average about 2,000 hot dogs a day and about 300 hamburgers.


As a kid, you worked at Pink's for its founders (your parents) Paul and Betty Pink. These days Pink's is a second job. You're also Managing Director of ING Clarion. What's the most valuable thing you learned about business at Pink's that you've taken with you?
With respect to Pink's, I realize the key elements to success are: excellent food, excellent service by ensuring high morale and training, unique atmosphere, and continued promotion. At ING, I  recognize the importance of excellent service, promotion of the product, and high morale.


America the Beautiful: 12" jalapeño dog, pastrami, bacon, lettuce, chopped tomatoes.

You've told stories about how some dogs came to be (the Ozzy, the Martha Stewart), and with some you can follow a logical progression. Other dogs' origins just beg asking after, like the pastrami burrito, and the Three Dog Night. Where did those come from?
The Three Dog night came about as follows. When the LA Lakers won three championships in a row, we named a hot dog after the event, and called it the Laker three-peat dog.  That lasted for a year, and then when the Lakers lost in the fourth year, we renamed the hot dog after a famous movie at the time, called Matrix Reloaded.  After the movie had its run, we were looking for a name that would be permanent, and came up with the famous name of the singing group: Three Dog Night.  As you know, this creation contains three hot dogs. As to the pastrami burrito dog, we were trying to create a hot dog that was wrapped in a tortilla, and originally it contained bacon, two hot dogs, cheese, chili and onions.  The flavors melded beautifully.  Since it became a top seller, we wanted to tweak it by substituting pastrami for bacon.  They are both very good sellers.

You're understandably secretive about Pink's chili recipe. Ruth Reichl is said to have gone dumpster-diving to discover it. Without divulging secrets, what makes good chili?

Chili has to have the right blend of sweetness and spice.  It needs to be relatively smooth, but still have enough texture to make it stand up to hot dogs and hamburgers.  We are famous for the flavors in our chili.


Orson Welles holds the chili dogs record for one sitting. Anyone tried to best that?
We have had challengers who have called to break Orson Welles' record.  I have discouraged them because we would like the record to go unchallenged because Orson Welles is a legend, and we are known as the place he consumed 18 hots dogs at one sitting.  We are not interested in setting up a hot dog contest to beat Orson's record.  First of all, we encourage moderation, and secondly, we would still boast about Orson Welles frequently dining at Pink's.


Who is the celebrity you've been most surprised to see at Pink's?
We are no longer surprised to see a celebrity at Pink's. Celebrities have been coming to Pink's for years.  A couple of examples: we have heard that Elizabeth Taylor used to ask Rod Steiger to drop by and pick up some hot dogs to go for her. Also, Bruce Willis proposed to Demi Moore at Pink's. 


What's the question about Pink's that you're surprised no one ever asks?
I think we have been asked them all.


Pink's does burgers too — what's the best burger on your menu?
The Poli bacon chili cheeseburger: one grilled Polish dog on a hamburger bun with bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and mayo.  It's $6.80.


What's your favorite burger in L.A. (besides the ones at Pink's)?
I love all the burger places from In-N-Out to Father's Office, to The Counter, to Tommie's, to Fatburger and many more.


Hot Dog Quickfire:
Which is your favorite Pink's hot dog? The Martha Stewart dog.
Favorite place for a dog if not Pink's, LA or anywhere? I love Chicago-style hot dogs.
Favorite regional style hot dog? Too many to mention.
Best ballpark dog you've ever had? I love all dogs at ballgames, so I don't have a favorite.