A frank approach to the dog

By Ian Neligh
Posted 4/12/10

Standing in plumes of billowing steam, whipping up concoctions over dancing flames with the fervor of a mad alchemist — good street food vendors are the stuff of pure legend. So it probably …

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A frank approach to the dog


Standing in plumes of billowing steam, whipping up concoctions over dancing flames with the fervor of a mad alchemist — good street food vendors are the stuff of pure legend.

So it probably doesn’t hurt that St. Mary’s resident Brian Smith learned the tricks of his trade from a bona-fide Denver hot-dog legend before setting out on his own in Idaho Springs.

Smith recently opened Brian’s Dogs in front of the Gold Rush Center with the goal of providing a type of food service that currently wasn’t available in the city, and one he hopes to eventually expand throughout the county.

Smith’s journey to his calling, and eventual tutelage by his hot-dog mentor, started 19 years ago when he began working in restaurant kitchens.

Working for about every type of restaurant you can think of, the lure of the Rocky Mountains eventually brought Smith, an avid snowboarder, away from native Vermont seven years ago.

One day while looking at Denver restaurant jobs on the Internet website Craig’s List, he came across a want ad for a hot-dog vendor.

He applied and said that out of 85 candidates, he was selected by Denver hot-dog maestro Biker Jim.

“Biker Jim — in the hot-dog world, he is a legend,” Smith said.

Biker Jim has been on television and on numerous “best of” lists, and was voted as having the best hot dog of the year by Maxim Magazine.

“I watched the magic he did, and then I also happened to be there the day his Porsche was delivered, and I was like, ‘You know, I need to do this,’ “ Smith said. “It was inspiration for me. I saw the numbers behind it, and the ease and the fun he had.”

Smith said he got permission from Biker Jim to go forth into the world and sling his own brand of hot-dog justice on the mean streets of Idaho Springs.

“I like the service he provides,” Smith said. “You’re right there with the people you’re cooking for — you get to talk to them; they get to see what they’re getting.”

Smith’s hot-dog cart is set up right in front of a space he’s leasing in the Gold Rush Center on Colorado Boulevard. The space acts as a commissary where he can take his cart to restock and prep his food.

Smith said working behind the cart is a great way for the chef to remove the middleman and work directly for his customers.

“I’m not saying I’m anti-wait staff. They’re great, and they serve their purpose. They carry the food out for you,” Smith said. “But I love talking to the people I’m getting the food for.

“If I screw it up, I look them straight in the eye (and say), ‘Hey, I screwed up. (Do) you want another one?’ ”

Smith said he’s gone from being essentially a recluse in the back of a kitchen to talking directly to his customers and seeing their reactions when they eat his food.

He said the local reaction to his hot dogs has been surprisingly good, and he’s weeks away from purchasing a second cart, which he plans to have in the high country for skiers and later for people on the jeep trails. He also hopes to have a third cart on the east end of Idaho Springs in the summer for the rafters.

“I hope to saturate the valley — in a good way,” Smith said.

Smith is open for business from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and eventually plans to provide a GPS location on his Facebook fan page when he’s up in the high country and out of Idaho Springs.

He said the secret to running a hot-dog business is simplicity, a little bit of “char” on the dogs, onions sautéed in Coke (a Biker Jim secret) and remembering your customers’ names.

Smith’s logo is the profile of a Scottish terrier, and he says the dog exemplifies his own attitude.

“I love the Scottish terrier, and I have three of them. They’re tough, stout little dogs that will go out in the mountains and stay in the cold, nasty weather — that’s me,” Smith said. “I am going to be the stout little annoying hot-dog guy that will stand out in the frost.”

Contact Ian Neligh at couranteditor@evergreenco.com, and check www.clearcreekcourant.com for updates and breaking news.


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