Published On: Wed, Jul 21st, 2021

Meet Hotdog Opolis: A mighty food for times of trouble

Hotdog Opolis is one of the many local food places that has been affected by the pandemic. Located on 6020 N Federal Hwy, Boca Raton, Hotdog Opolis is reliant on the support of loyal customers. The owners of Hotdog Opolis, Judy Zimmer and Harvey Loewenstein opened up about their experience with their business. 

Photo by Gabriela Villamonte, Boca Raton Tribune

Hotdog Opolis had a unique beginning. Opening during the 2008 recession, the hotdog joint was already defying the standards of the restaurant business. Despite being open for 12 long years, the owners didn’t originally imagine that they would open a hot dog spot.

“I was in the airline business for a number of years. I was involved in food services and in-flight dining and all that. And when we came down here, I decided I wanted to open a catering company. So we took this location, which is a little out of the way, and we were going to open up my catering operation,” says Zimmer.  

“Harvey said it was going to take about six months to get this established. So why don’t we do something to offset the costs in the meantime, maybe just sell some hot dogs at lunch or whatever? So that’s really how we started.”

With some experience in food and business, the two of them opened Hotdog Opolis. It quickly became a fan favorite because of the nature of the restaurant. Customers usually feel at home where the food stays fresh and the Frank Sinatra radio stays on. Specializing in the Chicago-style hot dog, the couple is always open to adding to their large and diverse menu. 

Photo by Gabriela Villamonte, Boca Raton Tribune

“The Chicago hot dog itself is the Depression hot dog. Because it was, they call it, dragged through the garden. So you have mustard, relish, onion, tomato, pickle, celery, salt, soy peppers. So it’s like a little salad on top of your hot dog. And it was considered to be a meal during very hard times during the Depression. So that’s the Chicago hot dog. That’s the Chicago style,” says Zimmer.

That’s not the only thing that makes the hot dogs at Hotdog Opolis different. Their menu options are constantly expanding and filled with eccentric options. “We have so many different toppings. A lot of them have been customer recommended. Our vendors are also very supportive. They know that we like some of the unique things,” says Zimmer. 

However, the unique food find is not above trials and tribulations. Hotdog Opolis was forced to adapt during the pandemic like many other food locations. Some of the adaptations were more unexpected than others.

“Well, some of the products were hard to get. There was a time when we couldn’t get gloves. We were ordering them online because of the need in the nursing field and everything. Everybody increased their takeout products, of course. So trying to get the proper takeout products for hot dogs and everything was challenging.”

“We’ve got a board full of tickets, people calling me on the tablets. And you’ve got to prioritize those things, especially with the delivery services, with Uber and GrubHub. So you got to squeeze them in because you’ve got 15 or 20 minutes before that driver is going to show up. And there’s no reaching them to say, ‘hey, could you hold that guy for another half an hour?’,” says Loewenstein.

The pandemic also affected how these owners dealt with their customers. A lot of patience was required for dealing with new changes in the restaurant. The bathroom became inaccessible and the store was cut in half. Many customers were not pleased about the fact, but the owners stood firm in their decision. 

“I’m not fighting with people that part is behind us and that was very stressful. But it’s hard because then it starts a chain reaction,” says Loewenstein.

“There are days that you just can’t get certain products. People, for the most part, understand this, but some don’t. Some customers don’t get it. They expect that they came here, they want it and we don’t have it. They’re disappointed. And all of that goes along with that.”

But the pandemic itself has changed since last year. Many people have learned to navigate the virus and adapt to it more easily. This is true for the hot dog joint. Now, Judy Zimmer and Harvey Loewenstein can welcome some of their loyal customers back for sit-down dining. 

Photo by Gabriela Villamonte, Boca Raton Tribune

“I’ve been in the kitchen during the whole pandemic and I have not seen too many customers, maybe handing them a bag through their car window, that’s about it,” says Zimmer. “But now we see our familiar faces again. They’re not wearing their masks, they’re sitting down and enjoying food. And it’s people that we have watched grow old or grow up.”

And that is not the only positive chance this couple has gone through. The chance to rest and recover is an adjustment they were surprised to enjoy.

“We’re compressing 47 hours into twenty-five hours. So we’re still twenty-two hours short of what we normally operate. But now we’re closed Sunday and Monday and we don’t want to give it back,” says Loewenstein.

More time to relax is not the only thing that these owners look forward to. The ability to interact with their customers is very important for Judy Zimmer and Harvey Loewenstein. The couple enjoys combining their love for their business with their local community. 

“This business would not survive without the owners being your people with a serious interest in the business. They’re comfortable [the customers], and they’re comfortable coming in by themselves because they see a friendly face.”

Photo by Gabriela Villamonte, Boca Raton Tribune

One of the biggest things that these hotdog owners anticipate is the return of their loyal customers. To Harvey Loewenstein and Judy Zimmer, the customers are the favorite part of their business. They also enjoy the liberty to be themselves in a business of their making. 

“It’s a great feeling. I have to say, after being in, and I loved working for TWA, but to know that you can make your own decisions. You’re always going to have a boss somewhere. we’re going to have people you depend on just supply you. But if we decide to put up three new hot dogs tomorrow. We can do it and there’s no pain. So it’s nice,” says Zimmer.

Having the freedom to make an everyday snack so unique is what these owners strive to do. Especially in times like a global pandemic, Hotdog Opolis thrives on their community and with the support of their loyal customers. Everyone has a place and unique experience at Hotdog Opolis. 

It’s only with local support that places like Hotdog Opolis can get through the difficult times of the pandemic. Remember to support local businesses when you can and help keep your community strong. 

About the Author

Lauren Do Nascimento - Lauren is a junior at Nova Southeastern University who is studying Communications, Creative Writing, and Strategic Communications. In her free time, she loves to go to the beach and writing what's on her mind.

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