Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 2: Amalia Pferd of Good Dog Houston

Food trucks are awesome. They're also a challenge to run and sometimes even finding a stable location to park and do business is problematic. Good Dog Houston still has its truck, but they've successfully made the transition from being on the road to being a traditional restaurant in the Heights.

In this final part of our Chef Chat with Amalia Pferd, (part One was yesterday) find out more about the restaurant, their new retail program that lets you have a Good Dog Houston experience at home and how they focus on using local products both in their dishes and behind their bar.

EOW: At what point did you decide, "The truck is no longer working. We really do need a storefront."

AP: A few months before we opened here we stopped with our regular routines. It's just Danny and I, so we needed to focus on getting the restaurant opened. We were paying rent and you just try to get it going as quickly as possible. We felt like slowing down on the truck would really help us push and get the restaurant open.

EOW: Was the storefront always the goal or did you realize there was only a certain point you'd get to with the truck?

AP: The storefront was a dream. I remember the first week we were on the truck and I was like "Where's my walk-in??" because we were out of butter. It's the sort of thing you don't think about when you're a line cook. I said right away, "This isn't going to work." It was a real dream that we'd get something bigger and more permanent. Throughout our time [on the truck], we were working on building a fan base and a business plan that would be successful as a brick-and-mortar.

EOW: How long did it take to get the Good Dog Houston restaurant open?

AP: It took about three months.

EOW: Which is really fast for a restaurant.

AP: Yeah, I know but it was a long three months for us. We were learning as we went. We obviously hadn't opened a brick-and-mortar ourselves before, so everything from finding the right contractor to small details--the next one will take less time. But we were set up and ready to go here because it was a second-generation restaurant. There was very little we had to do with the kitchen. We did have to build a bar and just so some cosmetic stuff.

EOW: What was this place before?

AP: It was The Big Mamou, a Cajun restaurant.

EOW: When you and Daniel were talking about what this place was going to be like, did you have any particular concepts in mind, like, "When I open my restaurant, it's definitely going to have this and be like that."

AP: In keeping with the tradition of the truck, we wanted it to be all-Texas. We knew we were going to have Texas beer taps and only serve Texas wines to highlight those vineyards. That was something we were sure about. We also wanted it to be very casual and family-friendly. It works well in The Heights to have an escape for the families to come and know their kids are going to have a great time. The parents can also have a beer and eat a good meal. That was very important. We knew it was going to be counter service, but we wanted it to be advanced where you feel you can easily get service even though it is all at the counter.

EOW: You are a finalist for Up-And-Coming Chef for the Houston Culinary Awards. What did you think when you heard about that?

AP: I was through the moon. It's amazing when you get recognized for what you do. I'm so excited.

EOW: Not bad for gourmet hot dogs.

AP: Yeah, right!?

EOW: Congratulations and good luck!

AP: I do want to mention that we are not only trying to have our truck out more often for catering but we are also focusing energy on our retail aspect. It's been a long process, but our hot dogs are now available by the pound.

EOW: And they're local?

AP: They're all from Texas and have minimal ingredients so they're really great--nothing like what you can find at the store. That was important to us. We have our pork and beef and all-beef ones available. We suggest you keep the hot dogs frozen until you're ready to use them because they don't have preservatives.

We're also making our pickles and condiments available so you can have a whole Good Dog experience at home. We have more work to do. It's not as easy as you think! Just letting people know about it is the hardest part.

EOW: So, if someone wants to have a backyard grilling event, they can just come here and pick up their hot dogs.

AP: Yes. We even have the buns available. You can have the whole shebang at home.

EOW: You make your own bread, right?

AP: Slow Dough [Bread Co.] actually makes our bread.

EOW: The buns are excellent.

AP: They are delicious. I've been working with Heath [at Slow Dough] since way back when. I called him up and we got a bun together that works well. We have pans that are specifically made so we can have a consistent product. They've been really great and a good company to work with throughout this whole process.

EOW: What are the prices on your retail items?

AP: The plain buns are $6.49 for a pack of nine and the poppy seed ones are $7.99 per pack. The pork and beef dogs are $7.99 per pound and the all-beef ones are $8.99 a pound. All of our house condiments, which include the mustard, are $6 for an eight-ounce jar and $12 for 16 ounces.

EOW: Were there particular challenges in getting this place open?

AP: The TABC license took the longest and that's probably because it was our first one and they had to do all the background checks. That took a long time. It was just all the little things, like the POS system--one thing after another.

EOW: Sometimes chefs put together ingredients and have an "ah ha!" moment with a dish. Are there any flavor combinations that you're really proud of?

AP: The Sloppy Slaw dog is awesome. It's so outside the box but it works well together. The Ol' Zapata is one of our top sellers. The combination of the beef, relish, ketchup, mayo--the way it works together is obviously very popular.

EOW: You mentioned earlier that you have a well-edited tap program. How did that come about?

AP: Danny does a great job with that. He and our staff are all very cognizant of what beers are put on and make sure it's a well-rounded selection of beer. We have 10 taps and are able to hit everyone's palate. It's great that we have the Texas beers. There are so many breweries now that we can try out and let the public know about. It's fun for us.

EOW: Many people may not realize that you have menu items that are not hot dogs. If someone doesn't want a hot dog when they come here, what do you recommend?

AP: Try the fish and chips. It's fresh, local fish. We switch up the type of fish weekly. It might be tile [fish] one day and grouper or snapper another. That's not something you typically see with fish and chips. Usually it's cod or something more traditional. That alone is great, but there's a beer batter on it that's really crunchy and light. I think it's delicious.

We also have our wings, which are smoked and then fried. That maintains moisture. It's a different flavor than a regular fried wing. We have a habanero hot sauce that goes on them. That's also one to try.

EOW: What are your goals?

AP: We have a few things in the works. Nothing in stone, but we would like to have more locations in Houston, certainly, but who knows where else? We want to keep at it and keep growing. It's just a matter of time until we are signed up and ready to go on a second location.

EOW: I'd like to put in a personal request for far Northwest Houston, like the Willowbrook area, Cypress or Vintage Park since I live out there.

AP: (laughs) I think our concept can go anywhere in Houston, so no particular area is counted out. We're looking all over at this point. We certainly wanted to be in the Heights to start, but now it's up in the air.

EOW: Is there anything else you would like people to know?

AP: I think something that gets overlooked is that we do make everything from scratch. We have a very local product. Our ketchup, mayo and mustard are all made in-house, so that's what really sets us apart from other hot dog places. That's what Good Dog is.

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook