In 1989, living in Reno, Mark and I were told that we had to go to Costco for a hot dog. What is this thing called Costco, we wondered? But we went. Costco, at that point, was four years old and not even remotely known east of the Mississippi River. Our first Costco hot dog cost $1.50 including a can of soda. It still does, but Costco has up-sized the drink to a 20-ounce cup with one free refill.
The story of how the Costco dog came to be and what it has evolved into is fascinating, at least in my limited world view. The Costco dog started at a single hot dog cart in front of a store in San Diego. The first hot dog purveyor was the only Costco employee who had any kind of food service background. For many years, Costco sold Hebrew National brand dogs. That’s what I so vividly remember the first time we had one in Reno – standing inside the warehouse at the chest-high red table with a bright Hebrew National umbrella over our heads. But a few years ago, one of Costco’s kosher meat suppliers closed for business and the supply of dogs dwindled. So Costco decided to make their own. The new dogs are actually bigger and better. They’re made with 100 percent beef with only USDA Choice or better cuts and no fillers, binders or artificial flavors. In other words, a hot dog you can feel pretty darn good about. As hot dogs go, of course.
Most people who eat at the Costco are there to shop. Mark and I actually make the food court a destination, especially when we’re feeling miserly. The two of us can eat like kings for less than $5 total.
Here’s why the dog and the experience of eating it is so memorable. First, the dog comes already encased in a pillow soft warm bun. Around the corner from the food counter is a long stainless steel table with the condiments. The ketchup, two kinds of mustard and the pickle relish are dispensed from huge containers with levers. But the real fun is the onion dispenser. Place your dog strategically below a tiny chute and crank a small wheel. The bits of onion gently fall onto your dog like snow flakes.
Then you sit at one of the white plastic picnic tables, take note of the myriad other people next to you – seniors, families with young children, a police officer and his girlfriend – and take a bite. The softness of the warm bun contrasts with the snap of the dog, yielding a juicy interior. Oh, my. I just had one yesterday and I may have to go back today.