By Chick Jacobs
Jim Caison has no illusions about the building on Ramsey Street that Hot Diggidy Dog calls home.
"It's a dive," he says in a combination of acceptance and affection of his hole-in-the-wall establishment. "But you know, some of the best food in the world comes from places like this."
If you're looking for something besides a hot dog, burger, fries and soft drinks, you won't find it here and that's the way locals like it. It's a dive, but there may not be a better one in this neck of the woods.
Fresh-made, never frozen ingredients, a staff that remembers your name and how you like your hot dog, and a sense of down-home comfort that's sadly lacking in modern burger-box establishments have given Hot Diggidy Dog a must-visit reputation.
The location, a squat, cinder-block cube tucked next to the railroad tracks just north of the MLK Freeway, might give folks second thoughts. But owners Jim and Dawn Caison were among the first customers when the place first opened in April 2003.
Before then, the squat, blue building had housed Mr. J's Crab and Seafood and Buddy's Barbecue.
"When we came in, I think we were one of the first four customers to eat here," said Jim Caison. "We sat at that table right there. It didn't take more than one bite to know that they were onto something special here."
The original restaurant owners, Billy and Phyllis Highsmith, became fast friends with the Caisons. They'd often sit at one of the vinyl booths along the mustard-yellow walls and talk about the business - and just how to get that down-home taste in a restaurant burger.
Eventually the Highsmiths added a second restaurant on Roxie Avenue. But the heart and soul was still the cinder-block box near the railroad tracks. That's where Jim was surprised by a tap on the window one afternoon after lunch as he was leaving.
"Billy said he wanted me to call him," Jim said. "He and Phyllis had been talking about retiring, and he wondered if we'd like to take over."
Within a couple of months, Jim Caison had traded the coat and tie of his insurance business for a bright yellow T-shirt with the restaurant's trademark dog.
"This is Phyllis and Billy's baby," he said. "They worked with us for two months, learning the ropes. We weren't about to change things when the business changed hands."
Days begin at 9 a.m., an hour before the doors open. Fresh patties arrive from Kinlaw's grocery, and fresh cabbage and onions are chopped for the slaw. Nothing is frozen.
"The secret isn't really a secret," Jim said. "Get the best, freshest ingredients and make everything fresh for people. The biggest thing is making customers feel welcome. Do all that and they'll come back."
They start coming back as soon as the doors open at 10 a.m. It's an eclectic mix: lawyers and construction workers, college kids and folks from the DSS office across the street.
They've talked about expanding. People have asked them to add a Hot Diggidy Dog in Hope Mills, Spring Lake, just about everywhere.
In the meantime, the couple and their family-friendly staff have plenty to do.
"We love it here," Jim said. "And we love seeing new faces. It means someone who's come here has told a friend about us."
Hot Diggidy Dog
- Hamburgers, hot dogs and fries
- Where: 1118 Ramsey St. and 106 Roxie Ave., Fayetteville
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 5p.m. Monday through Friday (6p.m. at Roxie Avenue); 11a.m. to 3p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday
- Contact: 426-1300 or 485-3644