Hot Diggity returns: Founder Keith Garabedian talks hot dogs, farming and going vegetarian

The cult-favorite South Street frankfurter shop is being resurrected as a pop-up this week.

A Hot Diggity hot dog

A Hot Diggity hot dog

Keith Garabedian

When Keith Garabedian shut down “hot dog emporium” Hot Diggity in January 2015, loud laments filled the Philadelphia snack-o-sphere. The same excitement spread when news broke that it was (briefly) coming back.

The South Street shop gained a cult-like following in its four years of existence. Fans appreciated Garabedian’s frankfurter scholarship — he knew seemingly everything there was to know about tubular meat — and also his culinary creativity. The Sabrett franks at Hot Diggity weren’t just slapped in a roll with a smear of mustard (though Garabedian would likely agree there’s nothing wrong with that). This menu elevated hot dogs beyond the mundane.

It was composed of elegant constructions fashioned as odes to certain cultures, dishes or trends — all illustrated in custom drawings by talented Philly sketch artist Hawk Krall. The Cincinnati Skyline Dog came complete with Cincinnati-style chili, three-cheese sauce, onions and scallions, for example, while the Seattle Grunge Dog was topped with whipped garlic cream cheese, red onion “straws,” scallions and tomatoes.

And then, two and a half years ago, Hot Diggity disappeared entirely from Philadelphia and the face of this Earth … until this week.

On Wednesday, Oct. 4, Garabedian is hosting a Hot Diggity pop-up at “farm to sandwich” joint Stockyard (16th and Spring Garden). For one night only, the frankfurters described above will make a return, along with his custom corn dogs and hot dog baked beans.

Could this be the start of something bigger? Will there be more pop-ups, or might Garabedian be considering another Philly spot? Billy Penn caught up with the 33-year-old South Jersey native to find out what he’s been up to (farming, podcasting and working for the government!) and discuss the possibility of his return to the local restaurant scene.

Keith Garabedian

Keith Garabedian

Courtesy Keith Garabedian

Remind us again why you closed Hot Diggity?

I needed a break. Having a restaurant is pretty grueling. I was working upwards of 120 hours a week — getting in at 6 or 7 in the morning and not leaving until midnight. It wasn’t good for my health.

There’s a bit of a hot dog void in Philly now.

Yeah, there was Underdogs, but now that’s gone too. Some of the older joints have also closed. I don’t know if Philly’s just not a hot dog town or what. People are more health-conscious now and hot dogs have a weird stigma of being very bad for you. There’s Fox & Sons [in Reading Terminal Market], but I haven’t been there yet.

Have you been to Woodrow’s Sandwiches (which opened in the former Hot Diggity location)?

I have not. I do want to…but every time I walk by there’s this pit in my stomach and I can’t do it.

What did you do after you shut down?

Took like six months off. Cooked at home and saw friends and family. There were some friends I literally didn’t see for years because of the restaurant.

Then you found another job?

I worked for around a year with Ari Miller of 1732 Meats, helping him get his [Lansdowne] meat plant up and running. I also started a super dorky podcast with my brother and a friend. It’s called Highlander Rewatched. We have a couple thousand listeners around the world and get invited to conventions and stuff.

Are you working in the food industry now?

Now I work for the Department of Defense, doing logistics. It’s a weird change of pace. I’m not used to a desk job. But it still uses some of the stuff I learned, like managerial and inventory skills. And it lets me see my friends and focus on my garden.

What’s up with the garden? You post lots of veggie pics on Instagram.

My friend Bill and I built a 1,200-square-foot garden in my backyard. I have a colonial-style wood oven there too. I wanted to get into the farming side of things. I’d like to move out of Gloucester City sometime soonish and do like a homestead. It could be chickens and a garden just for personal use, or maybe I would do farmers markets and make sauces and jams and host events.

So you want to get back into food as a career?

Maybe. If I come back, it probably will not be hot dogs. If I opened a restaurant again it would probably be more farm to table, or an ode to colonial food. I have been researching that for the past few years. Or honestly, even a vegetarian restaurant.

That’s a pretty big switch, from hot dogs to veg.

Yeah, I’m pretty much vegetarian now, I’d say around 90 percent of the time. My girlfriend and I just fell into it. After one week we noticed everything we’d cooked for dinner was vegetarian just by chance. We decided to try it five days a week, then after a year extended to most of the time. It’s healthy, it’s economical, it’s good for the environment.

But you’re not strict about it?

Nope. Like we traveled to Montreal last spring and were like, yeah, we’re gonna eat meat here. But the Philly veg scene is awesome. There’s such good food being produced.

So no chance of a Hot Diggity comeback?

I would like to keep Hot Diggity alive in some fashion. Maybe via more pop-ups. At Stockyard we’ll be using the same ingredients we used at the restaurant, so everything should taste the same. If the opportunity to do another pop-up came up, I wouldn’t say no.

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