AMHERST, Ohio — More than one year after a beloved gathering place burned to the ground in Amherst, Hot Dog Heaven is almost ready for its comeback. Owner Chris Russo has been so inspired by the support he’s gotten from the community during this transition he came up with a way to give right back.
Hot Dog Heaven burned down in August 2020, a devastating blow to Amherst.
"It’s really an institution,” Russo said. The night of the fire, he showed up to find people trying to put out the flames.
“It was friends with family, with people who used to work here,” he said. He saw how sad everyone was to lose Hot Dog Heaven. But Russo had a plan B. You may have even seen it around at Blossom Musical Festival or Cedar Point. It’s the Hot Dog Heaven food truck.
“We were able to operate it since the fire, so people could still come over and enjoy the food,” Russo said. Customers did. From former employees like Darrell McCarty who loves “chili cheese, a little onions and mustard” on his dog, to long-time residents like Sherri Kamnikr who used to ride her bike to the restaurant in elementary school. Even the Mayor of Amherst, Mark Costilow, acknowledged, “everybody loves a good hot dog.”
The new building will look a lot like the original, designed to look like more of a home than a restaurant, with extra perks like more parking, a drive-thru and a patio. Russo is glad to give back a space that has been so vital to the community. It’s not all he’s giving back. When a friend suggested he sell engraved pavers for the new building, Russo immediately wondered how he could pay that extra money forward. He reached out to city leaders and community pillars and they came up with a new scholarship program.
Amherst seniors just need to write an essay explaining what they’ve overcome, a nod to what Hot Dog Heaven has overcome since that blazing August night. Russo told News 5 he’s honored to help out in this way after all the community has done for him this past year.
“I’m truly overwhelmed by the interest, the feedback, the community spirit that rallied around the rebuild of Hot Dog Heaven,” he said.
Construction on the new building is scheduled to be completed in mid-February.
If you’re interested in buying an engraved paver, you can click here to learn more about the options.
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