What makes Hawg Dawgs special?
“There’s no other food like it here in this town,” according to Louis Menard, the owner of the restaurant.
Where else in Valley Springs can a hungry heart get poutine or prime rib tacos, receive a customary Oreo with the bill and vote on what the hot dog of the week should be?
Specializing in gourmet hot dogs, steaks and burgers, the family-owned eatery has grabbed the attention of motorcyclists passing through and regulars from the surrounding area for the past 13 years.
A longtime customer of the establishment situated next to Starbucks off of Highway 26 in Valley Springs, Menard took the reins in May of 2018 after longtime owner Jeff Salori decided to close up shop. Salori died later that year.
“He’d been around a long time. He built this place up,” Menard said in the eatery on a busy Friday night.
Menard wanted the place to stay open, and he had always wanted a restaurant.
“I cook a lot, and my father had a restaurant back in Canada, so I grew up” in the food industry, he said.
Menard has made some changes since taking over. Whereas there used to be three specials per week, Hawg Dawgs now offers seven specials a day. The restaurant also has theme nights: Monday is all-you-can-eat spaghetti; Wednesday is steak night; Thursday is wing night; and Friday and Saturday are prime rib nights.
“Today’s tacos have filet mignon, arugula, chipotle salsa and aioles,” Menard said, a menu in his hand.
The menu will be updated in the coming weeks and Menard is especially excited about a new item called the Home Wrecker, where poutine meets hot dog. It’s a half-pound of hot dog on a big bun, covered in two crumbled hamburger patties, fries, mozzarella cheese and gravy.
The restaurant also has a “puppy dog” menu, offering homemade biscuits and Bowser Beer, a meat-based water for dogs.
“The (Bowser Beers) are really popular during the holidays; people buy it as stocking stuffers,” Menard said. “I’ve had one customer go, ‘I’m gonna try it,’ and popped one open and he liked it.”
The restaurant also serves local wines exclusively, and periodically rotates the beers it has on tap.
Tiffany Hotvedt has worked as a cook at Hawg Dawgs for about three years.
“Everything’s fresh. Our salsa, sauces, ranch, it’s all made from scratch,” she said. “It’s like the best place I’ve ever worked. Nothing comes out of a box; it keeps everybody busy because there’s always something to do. I love this place.”
The busiest nights for Hawg Dawgs and most restaurants in the area are Wednesdays, according to Menard.
Part of that traffic is thanks to Peter Boysen, who sits down at Hawg Dawgs about three times per week.
“There’s about eight of us that meet every Wednesday night,” Boysen said. “It’s busy all the time, and (Menard) is a heck of a fella. We enjoy coming here and visiting with him.”
Boysen said he helped build a hat rack in the restaurant so that he would have somewhere to hang his hat while he sits down to order some buffalo chicken wings.
“We live on regulars,” Menard said.
His wife, Kristi Menard, is a teacher, but she helps out with social media marketing and maintaining close relationships with customers.
“The restaurant business is not my passion, it’s his. But it’s fun to do the part that’s social. I love the people, the customers. Making them feel important and valued, I like that part. That’s what makes me happy,” Kristi said with a bright smile, before greeting another regular she knew by name. “Hi, Martha, I haven’t seen you in ages. Happy Friday, you look gorgeous as usual.”
Their 4-year-old son, Hudson is an aspiring young cook that lends a helping hand in the kitchen from time to time, Menard said.
Beyond serving up gourmet dogs and a good time for regulars, Hawg Dawgs gives back to the community.
In the coming weeks, Hawg Dawgs will be raising funds for the Calaveras County Resource Connection Food Bank and HorseSpeak Center for Personal Development Inc., a local organization that offers equine-assisted therapy services with a cook-out outside the restaurant on Sept. 28 and a golf tournament at La Contenta Golf Club on Sept. 29.