Late-night trips for hot dogs a ‘Wild’ time now past

Olivia Bobrowsky

It’s Fall Quarter, late one Thursday night – or, rather, early Friday morning – and a pack of obnoxiously loud Northwestern students are running through downtown Evanston.

They are not going to a bar or craving greasy fast food; they’re led by Medill sophomore Sam Allard and are headed to Wild Dogz, 1625 Chicago Ave.

“Once we’d get to Chicago (Ave.), we’d congregate in a big circle and we’d do almost a religious assembly,” Allard said. “We’d all clasp hands or join shoulders and I’d give a little sermon of sorts, getting people psyched for Wild Dogz.”

Allard’s weekly trip to Wild Dogz was a tradition that started in Spring Quarter of his freshman year and usually included 12 to 15 friends.

“Then there’s this climatic sprint to Wild Dogz, in which we’d clap and hoo-hah and … explode into the restaurant and get our food,” he said.

Wild Dogz, a little restaurant with a big fan base, isn’t open late anymore. But even without Allard and other late-night regulars, Wild Dogz still prides itself on its connection to the Northwestern community, said owner Mathew Douvikas.

The 33-year-old said the restaurant’s name is in and of itself a tribute to Northwestern: We’re the Wildcats, they serve hot dogs.

But then there’s the ‘z,’ which Douvikas said was just to “make it different.”

Wild Dogz is not a run-of-the-mill hot dog joint. Though it’s relatively cheap, with hot dogs and hamburgers served for under $3, the food is still high quality. Douvikas said he buys fresh produce every day.

Wild Dogz offers the usual grilled food, but it’s also known for Greek specialties such as souvlaki and gyros.

The restaurant manages to appeal to Northwestern students and the Evanston business district alike, Douvikas said.

“The food’s excellent,” said Nancy Zielinski, the 57-year-old manager of the Evanston AT&T, 1620 Chicago Ave. “We regularly send customers over here to eat.”

Zielinski is also fond of Wild Dogz because the people who work there know her and her special order.

A close relationship with customers is not unusual at Wild Dogz, Douvikas said. The restaurant employs only four people full time and two part time, so the workers know what they’re doing and understand their clientele.

In fact, Wild Dogz is such a small business that when it first opened in October 2006, Douvikas ran its delivery service by himself. In the beginning, he worked 70-hour weeks driving food around town and running the restaurant. Douvikas said that was how he grew to know many Evanston residents, as he’d have to personally knock on their doors.

Now, even though his hours have shortened and he no longer single-handedly runs the delivery service, Douvikas said he’s lost count of how many customers he knows on a first-name basis.

“They come and go,” he said. “Some people graduate or don’t live on campus anymore, but they’ll come in once in a while and be like, ‘Hey, what’s up, we’re in town, let’s hang out.’ I’ve definitely made some friendships, especially when promoting the late-night Thursdays.”

Late-night Thursdays stopped shortly after Fall Quarter 2008, when it was too difficult to find reliable help to work the late shifts until 4 a.m., Douvikas said.

“He’d always give us the same excuses,” said Allard, who encouraged Douvikas to extend the hours. “But it really tied our week together. It was so fun and so epic and it was really great, so when (late-night Thursdays ended) we lost a huge part of our week and a huge part of our university experience.”