Last fall's closing of Hot Doug’s, Chicago's legendary "Sausage & Encased Meat Emporium," sent foodies near and far into paroxysms of grief, but for owner Doug Sohn, after fourteen years of slinging sausages six days a week, it was time to get out of the game.
"After we announced the closing, the last five months were brutally exhausting," says Sohn. "It was awesome, but I was tired. How it started and how it ended is so satisfying to me. That was a chapter, let's go on and do something different."
Ten months after putting his acclaimed restaurant to bed, something different is precisely what Sohn is doing — sort of. Last month, to the surprise and delight of many, a Hot Doug's stand opened in a new section of Wrigley Field behind the iconic center field scoreboard. The stand isn't an exact facsimile of the original Hot Doug's — you won’t find the famous duck-fat fries there, not yet anyway — but it is offering a rotating menu of sausages overseen by Sohn himself, with selections that change with every Cubs' homestand.
Originally slated for a 2016 opening, the stand at Wrigley was proposed by Cubs owner Tom Ricketts just weeks after Hot Doug's had closed its doors. In spite of his desire to unplug and take time off, Sohn jumped at the chance — "It's the Cubs — I said yes!" — even when a follow-up meeting in the spring of this year pushed the opening up to the Fourth of July weekend. Under the multiyear contract, Sohn has an ideal arrangement, overseeing the food program and "hanging out once in a while" without having to deal with the stress of running daily operations. But one thing is clear: Doug Sohn is not trying to build the Hot Doug’s brand.
"I don't think of it as keeping the name alive or anything like that, but rather a new opportunity, something I hadn’t done before," says Sohn. For him, the motivation is "to be a part of the Cubs, of the renovation of Wrigley, to be a part of this new team, the new administration. It’s an exciting time right now to be a Cubs fan."
For now, the stint at Wrigley seems to be enough work for Sohn, 53, as he figures out his next steps. He's still very much a public face in Chicago, hosting charity events, judging cooking contests, co-hosting a weekly podcast called The (Untitled) Hour, and of course hanging out at Wrigley Field from time to time. Meanwhile, the limited-edition Atomic Pizza he created for Chicago favorite Piece recently became a permanent menu offering, but beyond that and the Wrigley stand, he's adamant about being done with the restaurant business.
"Owning and running Hot Doug's was fabulous, and for me, it was perfect," says Sohn. "So for me to try and come close to that … there’s just no way. There’s no desire."
As for the future, Sohn displays a refreshing lack of empire-building desires in an age where chefs aim to be on TV screens, grocery-store shelves, and seemingly everywhere but restaurant kitchens. He’s thought about writing more, but seems mostly content to remain open to any and all possibilities, since that's how he’s found success thus far in life.
"My entire adult career has never had a plan or goal other than I like paying my rent and I like a nice hotel room when I travel," says Sohn. "At some point I need to go back to work, both financially and mentally, but not right away. I’m enjoying the time off without worrying about anything else right now."
Doesn’t he have a dream job, though?
"Sure, shortstop for the Chicago Cubs!" he says with a laugh. "But I don’t think that's gonna happen."