People - January 2007

He credits patrons' consuming ambition
By Julie Bird

Steve Katsadouros never followed through on a boyhood ambition to be a dentist, but he enjoys watching people sink their teeth into the hot dogs he sells as owner and president of Hot Dog World in Hendersonville. The restaurant passed a milestone — 6 million dogs sold — in late 2006, even though many customers thought it had closed the year before.

That’s when the state replaced a bridge on the street in front of the restaurant. The street was blocked seven months, and sales dropped 15% the first month. Many customers thought that it, like other businesses on the street, had shut down during construction. Katsadouros, 46, bought newspaper and radio ads to reassure them. Sales rebounded while the street was closed, increasing 5% from the previous year, then jumped more than 25% the month after it reopened.

Katsadouros, who grew up in Charlotte, didn’t start out in the restaurant business. After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill in 1982 with a bachelor’s in biology, he took a sales job in Hickory with MDI, an institutional food distributor. Four years later, his soon-to-be father-in-law, Philip Pouros, who had retired to Hendersonville after running a hot dog restaurant more than 20 years in Albany, Ga., opened Hot Dog World. Katsadouros and his wife, Dora, bought it Jan. 1, 1987. “I was in love with the idea of being self-employed.”

More than 700 customers a day crowd into the 1,800-square-foot restaurant, which also serves hamburgers, french fries, onion rings, salads, soft drinks and 14 flavors of milk shakes. The most popular dog is with mustard, chili and onions, but the toppings often depend on where the customer grew up. “If they’re from New York, they want sauerkraut. People from North Carolina want coleslaw. And Midwesterners love their chili.”

He often works the food line with the restaurant’s 10 full-time and 17 part-time employees. Hot Dog World grossed more than $1 million in 2006, a 12% increase from the previous year. It has been profitable since its second year. He tries to keep customers coming back by accommodating requests for new condiments, including one to top a dog with peanut butter. A more lasting change was the introduction of vegetarian hot dogs two years ago; he now sells up to three dozen a day. One request he hasn’t honored is to open a second restaurant. “When you’re in pursuit of more, you could lose what you have.”