Thursday, November 28, 2013

Many, Many Thanks...

For the fire in our bellies.
For the song in our souls.
For the time spent together.
For the love of our families.
For a sense of humor.
For the hope in our hearts.
For the many years to come.
For the rhythm and the blues.
For the passion and the journey.
For our flaws and vulnerabilities.
For undying friendship.
For good health and prosperity.
For laughter and love.
For a light in the darkness.
For our children and their laughter.
For the privilege to serve.
For the kindness of strangers.
For the encouragement of our guests.
For patience and pride.
For humility and grace.
For the differences between us.
For unity and teamwork.
For a job well done.
For those that came before us.
And for those not here with us anymore.

From our family to yours…have a wonderful holiday season from all of us at JJ’s Red Hots.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

my brother's keeper

I have known a lot of these guys for damn near 30 years. Many of us went to college together, pledged a fraternity together, grew up together, played music together, lived together, dated some of the same women, won and lost on the rugby pitch together, got into fights together, had our faces slapped at bars together, drank together, woke up in the same bed, went to each other’s weddings, and spent way too many late nights and early mornings together in the spirit of camaraderie.  We’ve shared meals, went on road trips, and flew on planes together. Went to the beach, went to the mountains, played golf in exotic locales and hung out on the couch. We’ve been arrested together, and bailed each other out of jail. We’ve taken each other to the hospital. There are a few broken bones and too many stitches to count. This group probably has 40 kids among us. That’s just fucking scary. But we’ve always taken care of each other. And I am lucky to have them in my corner. Thanks for always being there, gents. And stay well until we see each other again.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

October, ya dum dum...

October was stupid. A hulking beast of a month. A hapless boob. A relentless, stubborn, annoying and seemingly endless chunk of time. Stultifying. I. Mean. It. Just. Never. Stopped.

But it is over, and it was the greatest month in the short history of our brand.

In any young growing business, there are specific months/weeks/moments that stand out above all. Where so much careens past you at such an incredible rate of speed that it is extremely difficult to even capture, much less comprehend.  October 2013 was such a month for us, and years from now, we will remember it as an historic month for JJ’s Red Hots.

I am not exactly sure what happened, but I think October was really about three things - leadership, learning and execution. I know for a fact the following stuff did actually occur, as it is a matter of public record. It is in the ether:

  • I spent some time with great leaders like Joe Essa, Randy Brashier, Louis Basille, Don Fox, Ted Balestreri, Doug Brooks, Jon Luther Sr., and Dick Marriott. Such great people and wonderful mentors for us.
  • Brandy Newton, Director of Marketing and Events and I went to New Orleans for the Fast Casual Summit. New Orleans had our full attention, and we learned and shared ideas in a really well executed forum. Congrats, Cherryh Butler for a great event. And what a town. New Orleans can surely teach you a few things, mon cher!
  • We had a record month of events. Turns out people love Frank the Tank. ( We set some revenue records and established our catering business as a bona fide revenue and profit driver. A special thanks to Jen Lover and the folks at the Providence Day Fall Fest, for believing in us. And to Brandy Newton for changing the game and the playing field for us. Inspiring work. And fun to watch.
  • We improved our operation. We hired a new GM for our Dilworth location, Michael Swenson – who has instantly made a hugely positive difference in our operation. Michael understands leadership and service at a profound level and we are getting better every single day. We also promoted Sam Gomez to Kitchen Manager, who has really earned his way to this promotion. Well done, Sam!
  • Finally, we had our biggest single day of sales on the day of our Second Annual SausageFest. Thanks to all of the brewers who came out in support: Unknown, OMB, Triple C and NODA. Right about now is a really good time to be a beer drinker and a sausage eater in Charlotte, NC. Just sayin'...
But there were both highs and lows. We parted ways with some people who had been with us since the beginning, which is always tough, but sometimes necessary - for both parties. Still, their influence remains, and I will never forget their contribution to our brand. Thank you.

And a quick note to all of our JJ’s supporters. We obviously could not do this without the incredible support of our guests and our crew. Thanks to all who believe in what we are doing as much as we do.

Now…on to NovemBEER!

It is shaping up to be another great month at JJ’s and we have some exciting offerings to tell you about.

Look for our soon to be famous '3-2-1' specials. Every day, we will be featuring a $3 Craft/$2 Draft/$1 Can specials in both of our restaurants, so PAY ATTENTION!

This month we are featuring our SF 2013 winner – the Korean Bulgogi – which we are serving with an Asian “Chinois” Slaw – inspired by our friends at Wolfgang Puck Restaurants – and a snappy Wasabi Aioli.

We are also celebrating fall with a nice Puree of Sweet Potato Soup served with Chive oil.

As always, look for some creative ‘Dogs of the Week’ – upcoming offerings include “Yam I AM” – with Chili, sweet potato fries and sriracha mayo, and our FRANKSGIVING –with sage stuffing and cranberry mayo.

See ya soon...


New Orleans. That's Brandy and I with Chef Paul Prudhomme at K-Pauls. (top left)
 Friggin' Halloween...

 Me and Bill Nelson..the adopted 'Mayor of Metairie' and a great host, at Herbsaint

 The Howlin' Wolf


 Unheeded sidewalk Advice in the Garden District, New Orleans

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chain of Fools?

Are we a CHAIN?!
Man, this is a great question. I get this all the time. I am in the restaurant, prowling around like an overgrown, out of shape puma, doing my best to annoy the staff with my usual barrage of comments, suggestions and questions, when a guest will come up to me, crinkle up their nose, and say, “Excuse me....Is this a CHAIN!?”

My mellifluous and silky response goes something like this, usually: 

"Hmmmm....Ahhh...a "Chain, you say? Ummm...WelI Jeez, you know that's a great question sir...really. I haven't had time to think about that...I guess...Well I mean, It depends on what you mean, sir. If you mean, 'More than one...' Then yes. Yes we are..."

Well, it's true. 

On July 31st of this year we opened our second restaurant in the Ballantyne neighborhood - 15105 John J. Delaney Dr. (Suite J) This is a huge milestone for us and we couldn't be more thrilled. We have a great crew, a beautiful space and so many complimentary guests. For those that have said nice things, we thank you and hope you tell somebody about us and come back soon.

And if you are looking for a few sound bites to put in your face, here's what's going on:

Yes, we have a bar at our Ballantyne location! Jeremy Guthrie, our Food & Beverage Director, has put together a well thought out, balanced selection of 25 beers and 6 wines with fresh local beer and micros from around the country. And it is a great place to settle in a watch a game. This month features fall seasonals with several Oktoberfest beers from OMB and Great Lakes already available. Also try the PumpKick from New Belgium as well. 

Other features include Bell's Two Hearted Ale, Allagash White, and of course, PBR, Genny Cream and Natty Bo in cans.

And don't forget, we will be showing ALL Buffalo BiIls and Carolina Panther games this year as well as SEC College Football on Saturdays.

The Bar area has also given Jeremy a chance to showcase some unique menu items for the fall. Check out our Borracho Bean Hummus, Buffalo Chicken Tender Sliders, Short Rib Nachos and more. And here's the best part - all selections are under $5! 

We are rolling out our new daily Beer and Food specials this week. Three Dollar Thursday, Five Dollar Friday, Double Points Monday and many more exciting Daily Specials for all!

As always, every Monday we will feature a new Dog of the Week - just to keep you guessing, and back for a limited time is our Maui Gold signature hot dog with grilled pineapple salsa, red onion and cilantro lime crema. 

Also, look for our "Let's GO Buffalo!" Chicken and Roasted Poblano sausage topped with Franks Hot sauce, blue cheese, pickled onion and diced celery. 

Simply great stuff going on at JJ's right now.

And, the thing is, even if we were to grow to a million stores, I don't think I would ever call JJ's Red Hots a "Chain." I just don't think of us in that way.

But we are something, aren't we?

Officially, we are an independent, multi-unit limited-service fast-casual hot dog joint fighting every day for your business. We have two restaurants and one hot dog cart where our dedicated and lovely staff try their darndest to serve you the best hot dog you have ever had in your life. Or, as we like to say, "There is no greater joy than a kick-ass hot dog."

And, because we truly believe in this simple idea, I would actually like to build a million locations. Just for you. Because the hot dogs are THAT good...and you deserve it. 

And there are many other reasons why we want to build a million restaurants. Some of them are as follows, in no particular order. And if this makes us a chain*, so be it. 

In the words of the great Bob Marley, "So who the cap fit, let them wear it..."


To create something from nothing. Every day.
(Whiteboard session for JJ's taken two years ago yesterday. I still wear that shirt)

Because Kids Love Hot Dogs.

Because of what this guy represents:
Hard Work/Passion for Quality/Respect/Value Creation/A Sense of Humor

Two words: 'Little League.'

To create jobs and nurture future leaders.

To design unique and 'fun-to-be-in' spaces.

To be part of something bigger than ourselves...

To work with fascinating and talented people.

To teach young people the values of teamwork, leadership, and responsibility.

To build beautiful things and have a little fun.

To celebrate more milestones like this.

For the dogs, man...the dogs!
*Photo by Kevin Chelko

 *photo courtesy of Michael Hernandez, super fan #1.

Because sometimes everyone needs a fresh perspective on things...

Because of Frank...

...and last but certainly not least, for our incredible guests, fans and crew. Thank you all!!

*For the record, the restaurant industry is the second largest employer in this country (13.1 MILLION people in 2013, to be exact) , and "chain" restaurants employ a huge amount of employees. Further, CEO's of successful chain restaurants don't consider themselves (or operate like) 'chain' restaurants at all - that's a pop culture word that doesn't really exist inside the restaurant business anymore. There are more refined and descriptive ways to describe restaurant concepts now. (QSR, Fast Casual, Quick Casual, etc.) 

Honestly, the negative public perception of 'chain' restaurants is just wrong in my opinion. It is a herculean effort to build a restaurant 'concept' into a large, multi-unit operation (a so-called 'chain') like Panera or Chipotle or Dunkin' Donuts. It's close to impossible, in fact, if you did the math. 

And to sustain and grow at scale is even more difficult - especially if you are talking about a brand that is mostly operated by franchisees. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

July 2013


As some of you know, JJ’s celebrated it’s first anniversary on July 4th, 2013. To celebrate, we're bringing back some “Dog of the Week” fan favorites from last year as well as pushing forward with some requests for items not currently on the menu.    

Dogs of the week will be: (Week of 7.8) Elwood bleu, (Week of 7.15) Hawaii Fried-O and (Week of 7.22) The Big Cheesey. All of these were great sellers for us, and we cooked up quite a firestorm when we pulled them off the menu. So, shaddap! Here they are again.

Our monthly hand-crafted sausage special for the month marks our triumphant return to poultry! Check out the new roasted poblano/chicken sausage, topped with fire-grilled salsa, cilantro-lime crema, and red onion for a de-light-fully more healthy sausage option. We are serving that as a combo with a side of our borracho beans and a drink for $7.99. (I know, right??!!?) Or, try it with our new Sonoran Salad!

In addition to new craft brews like Jam Session and Narragansett (RI), We are also hard at work on some new non-alcoholic beverages as well. Ask your server for a luscious strawberry lemonade or pineapple limeade. Sweet, tart and refreshing, it is the perfect compliment to any of our dogs, but try the Pineapple limeade with the Hawaii Fried-O. Your mind will be blown.

Also keep us in mind of you get to Ballantyne this month, as we are opening JJ’s #2 on 15105 John J. Delaney Dr. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rest Room Study

Some rest rooms realize their full potential way before they are ever finished. The new rest rooms at JJ's in Ballantyne are shaping up nicely, but they will never, ever look this cool again. At least, I hope not.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

June 2013

June officially signals the arrival of the dog days of summer. Kids are out of school, pools are open and the weather ‘round here starts to get HOT. This month, we celebrate the heat with offerings that are a bit on the spicy side, taking advantage of fresh ingredients - like fresh corn, chiles and cukes - that are in abundance this time of year. Also check out our month-long Super-Hero collab. We hope you enjoy…nerds.

Dog of the Week
As part of our ongoing campaign to collaborate with other local businesses in the creation of our Dog of the Week specials, the month of June will be dedicated to superheroes.  Working with Shelton Drum (owner) and Rico Renzi (Creative Director) of ‘Heroes Aren't Hard to Find’, we've created some unbelievable dogs, beginning with The Rocketeer. Pay attention to our social media blasts every Monday to see each week's super addition. (Hint for next week: You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…)

Sausage: House Made Linguiça
For June we’ll be featuring our version of the classic Portuguese Linguiça.  We’ve had this little treat on our menu before in the form of sliders, but this time we’re giving it the royal treatment.   Like the classic version, JJ’s Linguiça will be flavored heavily with paprika, garlic, and red wine vinegar, but we change it up a bit by using an ample amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves (for a bit of a sweet spice note), as well as favoring fresh cilantro over ground coriander.  Traditionally smoked, ours will be a fresh version, letting the grill impart its summer-centric nuance.  Once amply charred, we’ll top this with our own house-made quick pickles, Weber’s mustard, and diced red onion—a great combination to add some sweetness, piquancy, and crunch.

Side: Smoked Jalapeño Creamed Corn
Summer corn is a great example of why we should eat what is in season.  It’s never sweeter than during the warm weather months, so it seemed like a no-brainer to feature it on our menu for the month of June.  We’ve opted to make a creamed corn, but with our own twist, as is our usual practice.  We incorporate house-smoked bacon and house-smoked jalapeños to create a great base flavor with just the right amount of heat to balance the sweetness of the corn.  Try this while it’s around—it won’t last long!

Beer: NoDa Jam Session Pale Ale
Are you ready for an American Pale Ale that does not sacrifice great malt and hop flavor for exceptional drinkability? If so, get ready for a Jam Session. It is Noda Brewing’s sessionable pale ale with a solid backbone provided by imported Maris Otter and Caramunich malts balanced with the pine and citrus flavors of Centennial, Simcoe, and Citra hops.

ABV 5.1% SRM 6.5 IBU 31

Getting There....

Other than looking at blueprints and 3D renderings of the restaurant, you never really know what it's going to look like. If you are lucky, you know in your head what you want it to look like, but you never really know. The entire process is about trust. In yourself, in your vision for the future and most importantly, in the partners you have chosen to build the thing.

At Ballantyne, we've again chosen RBA Architects and Bradley Construction to bring this vision to life, and things are really starting to come together nicely. Dennis Caswell, our Superintendent, who works for Bradley, is the guy on the hot seat. At the beginning of the project, I was informed that Dennis likes to build restaurants. He must enjoy the challenge, because it's not for the timid. Building restaurants (an operating them) takes a fair amount of patience, restraint, creativity and know how. There's a ton of moving parts to it. And lots of activity in a relatively small space. And you really have to love it. 

Dennis' approach goes well beyond merely managing the project. He puts himself right in the middle of the design process, often thinking three or four steps ahead and has done his level best to interpret our vision and to help us avoid pitfalls wherever possible. As I sit here, I can think of three or four major issues and three or four hundred minor issues that were avoided because of Dennis' foresight.

You will see this restaurant come to life in the next few weeks. It will look beautiful and will be much more fun to operate. We made a ton of improvements prior to construction and on the fly to maximize the guest experience, and I have Dennis to thank. He sweats the small stuff. Thanks, Dennis!

Dennis Caswell

 Dennis and Master Carpenter 'Cee-ray-lo'

 Floor Finishes


looking southwest

 looking northeast

 pipe lineup