There are quite a few things that separate UTM from other campuses. There’s our deer, our renovated school bus for a shuttle, and then there’s Mike’s Dog House, a quintessential campus landmark. Situated beside CCT and across from the Student Centre, the Dog House has sat in the heart of campus for eight years. I pass by the Dog House every day between classes. This week I decided to venture inside to learn more about its legacy.
It’s not your typical doghouse. No, there’s no big red dog or black and white beagle with a peculiar yellow bird inside. Instead you’ll find the truck’s namesake and owner, Mike. Originally the executive vice-president of a leasing company, Mike, frustrated and tired, left the corporate world and opened a hotdog cart in 1999. He was then selected from 12 other possible hotdog vendors to sell the convenient grub at UTM in 2005. However, it wasn’t until a year and half after getting the space that he invested in the truck that’s become a UTM landmark.
“The menu started with just a hotdog and sausage. Now there’s over 20 items,” he says. And it continues to develop. Mike says his best ideas usually come to him in the middle of the night at 3 a.m. when he’s sleeping. From there, he makes the dish and tries out the creation on his very own “taste-testers”, made up of his UTM regulars, his children, and his friends. If it satisfies their esteemed palates, it makes it onto the menu. His most popular menu item at UTM is the bacon and cheese hotdog: your classic dog topped with bacon bits and melted cheese.
The same thoughtfulness that goes into the truck’s menu went into the search for the perfect hotdog and bun back when the truck first opened. After trying 30 or 40 brands, approximately 80% of the hotdogs available on the market, Mike settled on European Meats for its consistency and flavour. Through a similar selection process, Mike selected B&A Bakery hotdog buns for his hotdogs.
The Dog House’s permanent home is UTM, but it also hits the road for special events and catering. The truck has made appearances at the CNE for the Eat St. Food Truck Frenzy, the Good Food and Drink Festival, the Boots and Hearts Festival, New Year’s Eve in Mississauga’s Celebration Square, the Toronto Zoo, and various Toronto Argonauts events. The Dog House is also a feature at Hamilton’s Food Truck Alley, which Mike has helped develop.
Taking into account the age of the Dog House and how the food truck craze has recently hit Canada and the United States with the success of such Food Network shows as “Eat St.” (featuring host and UTM alumnus James Cunningham) and “You Gotta Eat Here”, I’m not surprised to hear from Mike that the Dog House was the first classified food truck in the GTA and the first gourmet hotdog truck in Canada. Our country’s newfound love for food trucks has only increased business for Mike over the past two years. “It’s really built the brand name and made the city more aware. The City of Mississauga calls all the time now,” Mike says. The Dog House will not only make an appearance at New Year’s Eve at Celebration Square again this year, but also at the Tree Lighting Celebration and the Winter Market. People book the truck for various events, including corporate events and weddings. (I know what I’ll be serving to my guests when I get married!)
However, the current food truck madness has brought in a lot of new trucks to the industry with unrealistic expectations. “I see a lot of trucks come and go, thinking the industry is easier than it really is,” says Mike. “Running a food truck can be up to 80 hours a week, and it only gets busier over time.” The uniqueness of the food served at a food truck and the creativity of its owners are key to the success in the industry, says Mike.
Despite how difficult a business it is, Mike loves it and UTM feels like home for him. He’s lovingly been referred to as “part of the furniture” and the “campus dad”. In my time chatting with Mike, I have to admit that the Dog House certainly feels more home than house.
After all this talk about menu development, searching for the perfect hotdog, and the food truck craze, I developed an appetite and I certainly couldn’t leave without trying a hotdog. I took Mike’s advice and went for his newest addition to the menu: the Redneck, a hotdog topped with chili, melted cheese, bacon bits, and Fritos. It’s your classic chilidog with a surprising but delicious crunch. This is real comfort food that’s as warm and welcoming as the service. I’ll definitely be returning to the truck to try more of the menu and to catch up with the “campus dad” himself.