Chuck Reeder, of Medford, Oregon, is a believer in street carts. “But I’m a hot-dog cart killer.” He says eight of his competitors have gone out of business since he started Victory Dogs in 2012. While we are talking, he’s taken orders from the three customers behind me, and he’s busily grilling three split hot dogs and a raft of bacon while he prepares the buns for their BLT, BBQ Beef, and Pizza Dogs.
The basis for every item on the 50-item menu is the grilled bacon dog. “It’s taken a while for some folks to come around to the idea of putting meat as a topping on hot dogs,” he says, telling me that the pastrami dog is his personal favorite. It is also his customers’ favorite, along with the Philly and the Pulled Pork dog.
“What makes the Philly great is plenty of black pepper.” Chuck holds up a very large pepper shaker. “This country was founded on spices. People would have killed for this much pepper.” He points to the matching salt shaker. “This much salt? I would have been a rich man.”
Chuck doesn’t cater to low-salt diets. ‘You know what I say about special diets? I don’t care.” He laughs. “There are plenty of other places for them to eat.”
It’s noon, and he’s continuing to take orders three at a time, deftly setting out ingredients on his counter, running the grill, assembling the finished products, and taking payments. A regular stops by, and counter to his statement about special diets, Chuck prepares a bunless omelette dog, with ham, sausage, bacon, and two eggs on a bun-shaped piece of fried cheese. “He’s my protein guy,” he tells me.
It’s hard to believe that the mobile street cart, at the corner of 8th and Central, can hold all the ingredients needed to fill the menu, which includes a Mexican-inspired Walking Taco Dog, a Greek-inspired Gyro Dog, and a Curry Dog, which has yellow curry sauce with coconut milk. The Meatapocalypse lists nine types of meat, plus the hot dog and three cheeses, and is served on three buns. Chuck explains, “Most restaurants try to keep to a 28 percent food cost, but my food cost is about 45 percent.”
I had never eaten at a hot dog cart before I found Chuck’s grilled bacon dogs. When I was a little girl, my Dad took me to New York City, where they are everywhere. I wanted him to buy me one, but he refused, saying, “They drop hot dogs in the street, and then they pick them up and sell them to unsuspecting customers.”
But the first time I stopped at Victory Dogs, I recognized that this was no ordinary hot dog cart. I was so captivated by Chuck’s professional operation, I didn’t realize he’d only been open for a couple of weeks. Each time I drive from Eugene to California, I look forward to visiting with him, even if I’m not hungry. He’s charming.
San Leandro is still six hours away. and it’s time for me to get back on the interstate. I order a Philly Dog, which comes in a tidy yellow paper wrapper. As I’m sinking my teeth into the peppery combination, Chuck asks, “How do you like it?” All I can do with my mouth full is grin and give him a thumbs-up.
I like it, a lot. Most of all, I like Chuck’s sense of humor and the way he treats his customers. He calls his business “Medford’s only destination hot dog stand.” I call it hot dog art. Chuck’s putting Medford, Oregon, on the map, one grilled bacon dog at a time.