Apparently I was a little late to the game here but it appears making the national rounds is the story about Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts; a complete ripoff off the Happy Dog concept in our beloved Cleveland. It is probably the most press and publicity the entire city of Youngstown has gotten since Jim Traficant was indicted back in 2002. I am sure Suzie’s is pleased about it because well, like they say any press is good press. However when the press is you stole an entire concept from a bar up in Cleveland, that’s not really the kind of press I’d want.
The Happy Dog is one of those local dive joints you would want to clone. I get that. It’s a blue collar kind of bar that made good. The underdog (yes, pun intended) that was able to triumph in an area that was all but written off a few years back. Not only did the Happy Dog prove they were built to last and here to stay but that they are the anchor of that community. They buy local, and support local. The food is sourced locally, and they feature many local brews on tap. They support the local music scene from the Orchestra to some garage band you never heard of.
They have a dive bar feel that many (Suzie’s) pay a big chunk of cash to replicate. The Happy Dog is authentic. The Happy Dog is original. The Happy Dog is a recognized brand in Cleveland. The Happy Dog didn’t hire some interior designer to come in and say build me something that looks retro like a 50’s style tavern where families came with their kids for the Friday Fish Fry. They didn’t say build me a bar that looks like a place that the blue collar workers would come in dirty with soot working a 12 hour shift at the LTV Plant. That’s what I see every time I walk into the Happy Dog. I see the past, present and future of the city of Cleveland. I see hipsters hanging coming in with their kids, and grandma and gramps hanging together during the Polka Happy Hour with DJ Kishka.
The Happy Dog wasn’t always the Happy Dog though. There were struggles and the Hot Dog concept was formed somewhere in that time. It was a painstaking labor of love and a menu that put this tiny little dive on the outskirts of Ohio City (Gordon Square) into the hearts, minds and stomachs of food lovers all over the city. Now someone took not only the menu, but the concept and are trying to claim it as their own a couple hours to the east. They made their own Happy Dog Disneyland and named it Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts. While everything seems to be a spot on dead ringer for the original it is nothing like the original. It is a completely stolen idea, concept and execution from the physical menu to items on the menu retooled, and renamed. It is a prefab do it yourself Happy Dog stolen from someone that came to the bar one night and thought they could pull it off. I am sure the scheme took multiple visits to attempt to recreate. They even want to clone the staff putting a call out for “Hipsters” to work the bar. (No offense to the staff at the Happy Dog, I don’t think you are Hipsters).
They left out one part of their cloning experiment though. They left out the blood, sweat, tears, heart and soul of Sean Watterson, Sean Kilbane (RIP brother), and Eric Williams (and other investors). They left out the fact that while you can replicate, you can’t truly recreate what is in the walls of that building on the corner of 58th and Detroit. You can’t buy character. You can’t buy history. You can’t buy what everyone loves about the Happy Dog. You can steal a menu. You can steal a concept and try to replicate everything and call it your own making small little tweaks here and there in an attempt to either sleep at night or try to convince yourself that you have something original. Suzie’s is a cheap imitation of the original. Everything from the tots to the toppings are a fabrication of an amazing vision of those original investors and those who sang the praises of the Happy Dog early on. Are we pissed because you opened a hot dog joint? No, we are pissed because you are selling a lie based on the foundation of something amazing here in Cleveland.