A history to relish: How Lucky Dogs became a New Orleans icon
In the very beginning, Lucky Dogs didn’t really seem particularly lucky from a business standpoint. It was 1947, and it dawned on businessman Steve Loyacano that, while the French Quarter was filled with its share of fancy restaurants, it was also filled with bars — which meant armies of hungry drunks craving a quick bite, as opposed to a five-course meal, every single night. To feed them, he designed a hot dog cart shaped like a 7-foot wiener in a bun, with the idea of stationing them throughout the French Quarter. “The first cart we tried we threw out altogether,” Loyacano said in a 1981 interview with The Times-Picayune. “I had first tried a plaster-of-paris hot dog, but it just didn’t work.” He then commissioned a hot-dog-shaped cart made out of sheet metal, with cooking compartments inside heated by butane. The hungry masses ate it up. Ever since, tourists and locals alike have been relishing Lucky Dogs, which have become an unmissable — not to mention undeniably spot-hitting — French Quarter fixture.
Loyacano operated the business with his brother Joe until 1970. That’s when, after the death of Joe, Steve sold it to local businessman Doug Talbot, who, by virtue of his previous ownership of an Orange Julius franchise on Bourbon Street, was already familiar with the French Quarter landscape. Talbot died in 2014, but the Talbot family continues to operate the company.
- Lucky Dogs gained a measure of immortality in the Pulitzer-winning novel “A Confederacy of Dunces,” in which main character Ignatius J. Reilly takes a job selling street wieners for a French Quarter company called Paradise Vendors. The company is widely recognized as a thinly veiled take on Lucky Dogs, which is as known for its colorful salespeople as for its product.
- A 1972 city ordinance dictated that Lucky Dogs and another company that operated ice-cream carts would be the only push-cart food vendors allowed in the French Quarter. That law was challenged in court but was upheld by a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, New Orleans v. Dukes, handing Lucky Dogs what is today a virtual monopoly on French Quarter food carts.
- Before Loyacano switched to butane to heat his frankfurters, Lucky Dogs in the early days were cooked in compartments heated by gasoline-fueled elements.
- To meet modern health codes, Lucky Dogs’ iconic push carts got a makeover ahead of the 1984 World’s Fair, which saw them grow from 7 to 10 feet in length. “They’ve got double sneeze guards, stainless-steel sinks, refrigeration areas, four different compartments and receptacles for waste water and garbage,” Talbot said in a 1990 interview with The Times-Picayune. “Basically, they’ve got everything on them that a restaurant is required to have, except a bathroom.”
- The Lucky Dogs company boasts of having sold more than 21 million hot dogs in the past 50 years.
- In addition to its locations on various French Quarter corners, Lucky Dogs are also sold at Louis Armstrong International Airport, on the gaming floor of Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, at the Superdome and through Rouse’s grocery stores, according to the Lucky Dogs website.
- When the company was founded, it was located at 1307 St. Charles Ave. It later moved to 211 Decatur Street and now resides at 617 Gravier St. — where salesmen can be seen every evening, pushing their carts and wearing their trademark red-and-white-striped shirts, as they make their way to their nightly posts.
- Longtime Lucky Dogs manager Jerry Strahan wrote two books about the company. In 1998’s “Managing Ignatius,” he focuses on the parade of character who have served as Lucky Dogs salespeople. In 2016’s “Lucky Dogs: From Bourbon Street to Beijing and Beyond,” he spins more Lucky Dog yarns, including of the company’s foray into China in the 1990s.
For nearly 70 years, late-night denizens of the French Quarter have been filling their bellies with Lucky Dogs. “Most people’s attention was attracted by the carts,” company founder Steve Loyacano said in 1981. “But I’d like to think we put out a good product, too.” There’s more to Lucky Dogs than just that, though. At a time in which locals can recite a raft of beloved local brands that have faded into memory — from Schwegmann’s to K&B to McKenzie’s to Pontchartrain Beach — Lucky Dogs endure, the ultimate comfort food, for both the besotted soul and the nostalgic one.