Paul Konstanzer, owner of the on-campus hot dog stand Pauly Dogs, said if you are going to do something, you better do it the best.
After twelve years of making hot dogs for the Blue Devils, Konstanzer received national recognition that he is doing precisely that. Pauly Dogs was one of 64 finalists in the search for "America’s Best Hot Dog,” a contest sponsored by Every Day with Rachel Ray and food blog Serious Eats.
In a March Madness-inspired bracket system, hot dog stands and restaurants divided into South, East, West and Midwest regions went head-to-head through single elimination until two finalists found themselves in the final dance, with Gene & Jude’s in Chicago taking the crown. Pauly Dogs was knocked out in the round of 32, but Konstanzer, or Pauly as his customers know him, said he is still honored to have been nominated in the first place.
“If they are saying my hot dogs are top 32 in the country, I will fly with that in a second,” he said.
Offering more than 30 toppings and sauces on a regular basis, Konstanzer takes pride in the originality of his product. A favorite among students, Pauly Dogs is known for the crazy combinations of toppings that appear on top of Pauly’s five basic varieties of hot dog to create a unique gastronomical experience. Konstanzer said the current and long-standing favorite among students is the “Chips Plus,” a dog garnished with barbecue sauce, cheese, crushed Ruffles potato chips and Old Bay spices.
“I think outside the box and I think I got everyone else at Duke University to think outside the box when they eat a hot dog, too,” Konstanzer said.
Graduate student Kevin Kauffman, who is working toward a degree in engineering management, said going to Pauly Dogs is not just about getting a good hot dog, it is about the experience. Aside from its great location and convenience, Kauffman keeps coming back to Pauly Dogs because of the people who work there.
“You can always come by and have a conversation even if you’re not going to buy a hot dog,” he said. “If there were a couple of boring guys back there it wouldn’t be the same. It’s the food, it’s the exotic nature and it’s all great.”
Kauffman said the first time he came to Pauly Dogs, all the toppings overwhelmed him. After nervously settling on the “Pizza in a Bun” option—distinguished by a combination of marinara sauce, pepperoni, cheese and garlic—Kauffman never looked back and now deems himself a regular. Konstanzer said this experience is very common.
“So many times a week someone gets introduced to the stand and says that they just want ketchup and someone behind them in line will say, ‘This is Pauly Dogs, you can’t just get ketchup,’” he said.
Konstanzer said what makes Pauly Dogs great is that he never charges customers based on toppings, which encourages students to be adventurous with their selections. In fact, student input is exactly what keeps his menu constantly changing.
“We are always adding things,” he said. “If a student recommends something, or they come up and say, ‘Have you tried this?’—that is how things really start. That has got me motivated with everything I do out there.”
Senior Ashley Jones has been going to Pauly Dogs since she arrived on Duke’s campus. She said the hot dogs are not only the perfect pick-me-up after class, but that the interesting flavors have an addictive quality that keeps her a frequent customer.
“It’s something a little alternative,” she said. “It is an interesting and tasty twist on a traditional food.”
And Konstanzer just keeps on twisting. Refusing to settle, he said he is always thinking about ways to make his product better. He is calling his favorite new addition to the menu “No Name,” which is drizzled with sweet Thai sauce, doused with bacon and cheese and finished off with a touch of garlic and a sprinkling of the French onion strings. For Konstanzer, Pauly Dogs is more than just another dining option on Duke’s campus—it’s a food revolution.
“It’s changed the way of eating hot dogs,” he said. “No one can go back to just ketchup, mustard and relish after trying one of my dogs.”
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