AMHERST, Ohio — It was during tense moments in the middle of the night on September 1, 2020, that Chris Russo saw the future.
"I was actually redesigning it in my head during the fire," said Russo.
Even as flames destroyed his business, there was no doubt it would make a comeback.
"It's not just a hot dog restaurant. Hot Dog Heaven is part of the fabric of Amherst," said Russo.
Since 1976, they've been serving up something special on Cleveland Avenue that goes far beyond a good bite to eat.
"This is truly a community location," said Russo.
The proof is on the walls of his new building — "Hot Dog Heaven 2.0," said Russo.
Russo turned to the loyal customers they've served for decades to help once again fill the space with the story of Amherst.
"There used to be pictures of old athletes, pictures of the community inside the building," said Russo.
The donations of championship jerseys, snapshots of the city and a scoreboard from the old Powers Elementary School all confirmed for Russo what he long suspected.
"It just reaffirmed everything I thought that people thought about Hot Dog Heaven," said Russo.
Long-time customers like Gary Mitchell stopped by on Monday morning, just minutes after the re-opening.
"I've been all over the country chasing hot dogs," said Mitchell.
The self-proclaimed chili dog connoisseur waited 19 months to get his fix.
"This is just my favorite. We felt it like the loss in the family," said Mitchell. It's a similar feeling shared by so many.
"This is our first time back since the remodeling," said Maxine Holmes.
So many memories are intertwined with the community staple.
"It was just kind of a family tradition that before we went to the games, here's where we had our dinner," said Holmes.
The dinner options on the menu didn't change for Holmes and her husband.
"We each get two hot dogs. He likes mustard, I like chili and onion," said Holmes.
The atmosphere hasn’t changed either.
"We took great lengths to make this look like a house, we took great lengths to make it look like it was always here at this location," said Russo.
Amherst may be known as the sandstone capital of the world, but Russo believes there’s also another distinction that resonates with the community.
"I honestly think it's the hot dog capital of the world because Hot Dog Heaven is really, really important for everybody," said Russo.
The return of the beloved restaurant has put the city on the map again in a big way.
"This one project it wasn't just us trying to build it back, it was the whole community trying to build it back," said Russo.