He's just a hot dog

LouDogs founder Lou Subashi, in a Daily News apron, stands by the cart with his son Christian, then 5.
LouDogs founder Lou Subashi, in a Daily News apron, stands by the cart with his son Christian, then 5.
Posted: February 04, 2014

IF IGLOO TEMPERATURES have been shivering your timbers, let me take you somewhere warmer, to a place nearly all of us love.

The Jersey Shore. Think AC, Longport, Brigantine, Avalon, Margate, Cape May, Wildwood, Sea Isle City . . .

Let's stop there, at Sea Isle. If you're thinking Sea Isle, you're thinking blue water, warm sand and maybe LouDogs. For decades, it was nothing more and nothing less than a family-owned, propane-powered hot-dog cart.

It was not destined to be a gift that kept on giving.

In 1982, Lou Subashi was awarded a permit for a hot-dog cart on the beach at 75th Street in Sea Isle because he was a veteran, having served in Germany in the mid-1960s.

The permit was a "gift," says his son Christian, of a century-old state law giving honorably discharged New Jersey veterans first shot at vending permits. Sea Isle has seven, and Lou got the one at 75th Street, which many people think is the best.

A native of Eddystone, Delaware County, Lou taught social studies in Chester city schools, then spent every summer day peddling hot dogs on the beach under a flag that screamed, "LouDogs." People knew the flag, they knew the cart and they knew Lou by his big smile and bigger mustache.

There was something so special about LouDogs that people would line up a dozen deep, says Christian, who worked the cart from the time he was 5. He's now 37.

"People say they're made with crack, they're that good," he says.

It's not the dog itself. Those are manufactured by Hatfield, and anyone can buy them.

If not the meat, it must be the steamed roll, bought from a bakery that no Subashi will ever name. Also a secret is how many dogs Lou Subashi sold every day, but it was a lot.

Lou died at 69 after the summer of 2010, and that's when the gift stopped giving.

The veteran-preference benefit, says Christian, "does not transfer to the widow" or the family. LouDogs was ordered off the beach.

"We had a lot of frustration," says Christian. "We built something up," and suddenly it was gone.

Like his dad, he's a teacher, mostly as a sub in Philadelphia schools. He worked every summer on the beach with his dad, but now he had to ponder whether he was really a hot-dog man.

A good-looking bachelor, he took off the summer of 2011 to think about it. "It was a very confusing time," he says.

After the mental tug-of-war, Christian concluded that he was a hot-dog man. Denied his father's beach permit, he moved the cart to a storefront at 38th Street and Pleasure Avenue, half a block from the beach. He works from the same cart his father used, but from inside the store.

"We had to refigure for electricity rather than propane," says Christian, but he saw the cart as a throwback that customers would love and also a tribute to his late father.

Tradition is fine, but it will take you only so far. Lou had sold only hot dogs with the usual condiments. Christian added a variety of toppings to create 14 specialty dogs for $3.25. Regular dogs go for $2.75.

His piece de resistance is the walking taco ($4), the only item on the menu not using a Hatfield dog.

Christian takes a bag of Fritos, crushes it, pours in "my mom's homemade chili, shredded cheddar cheese and homemade pico de gallo," which is like salsa. Customers get plastic spoons and walk away eating their taco.

It's not a dog, but I think Lou is smiling down from his cart in the sky.

Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

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