Suzie We Stole a Bar…The Happy Dog

dogsignApparently 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.

hdc_int-3-lgThe 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.

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32 thoughts on “Suzie We Stole a Bar…The Happy Dog

  1. I can see the point of the article and agree to an extent but what about Dirty Franks in Columbus if we’re going to start calling out every place offering craft beers and jazzed up dogs? I’m just curious.

  2. Really, an article about stealing the idea for a hot dog shoppe? Finally, some meaningful prose being put out into the literary community. I wish I could have been there that fateful night that the idea was “stolen”. I envision it going something like this: Suzie’s husband: honey, I bought a restaurant in downtown Youngstown. Suzie: that’s great dear! What are you planning to serve? Suzie’s husband: not sure. Something different. Thinking light and easy to attract the college kids. Susie’s husband’s sidekick friend Norm: hell, when I was in college, I practically lived on hotdogs and ramen noodles. Suzie: yeah but they can already go to JibJab, New Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe, Coney Island or the mall for a hot dog. Susie’s husband: I got it! Gourmet hot dogs. The other places just do mustard, ketchup, relish, onions or chili on theirs. Let’s do something different! Suzie: okay but what? Susie’s husband: hmmm, not sure. I just can’t think of anything else that would go on a hot dog. Norm looks around to make sure no one else is looking, then whispers: there is a bar in Cleveland that makes gourmet hot dogs. Let’s sneak in one night, take some candid photos of the menu and decor and boom, we are in business! Suzie: great idea! Then we can make millions of dollars too! Norm: uhh, I don’t think they are making millions … Probably not even hundreds of thousands … But at least we wouldn’t have to injure our brains trying to think up hot dog toppings!

    Let’s worry about more important things, huh? Like who do we take with the fourtth pick.

    • Love it, appreciate the comments. Call me crazy but I kind of want Johnny Manziel but we’ll probably try to snag Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr later with a trade move and possibly get Mathews or Watkins at 4. I just want a sexy pick for once.

  3. This idea was originally stolen from any “build your own burger” joint. Just substitute burgers for hot dogs.. Its not that original really.. But if its good, its good.

  4. Yeah! Screw that city over an hour away for trying to bring a cool concept into their own neighborhood! There should only be one hot dog place in the whole country! Yeah! It couldn’t possibly be like any of the other amazing gourmet hot dog places in the US! Biker Jim’s in Denver or, I don’t know, anything in Portland. It’s not poaching business from Happy Dog. It’s not stealing imagery. It’s serving hot dogs.

    Let’s bash some more small businesses trying to bring life back into a city that needs it. More articles like this! Yeah!

    • Because that is all I am about ruining small business. This blog is built on building small business and promoting it. Try reading more than one article. I have been doing this for the better part of 5 years promoting small business in my community. Imitation is flattery when you admit to it, however denying it is just outright theft. The later is the case here. I am calling a spade a spade, best of luck to our friends in Youngstown.

      • You don’t really mean best of luck otherwise this would have more of a positive spin to it. Maybe suggesting a friendly rivalry where the two could do contests to support other local businesses or charities. Instead this article just seeks to bury a business. Easy to say you’re all for it succeeding after wiring it but why don’t you try reading it again yourself is very negative on a budding restaurant in an area obviously with its own stuggles

  5. Dot’z Dawgs and Drafts, D’s 6 Pax & Dogs, Suzie’s Dog’s and Drafts. To lay claim that Cleveland invented beer and hot dogs is about as ridicules and laying claim to be the inventor of air and the question mark!

  6. This argument shouldn’t be about both places being hot dog joints, it should be about Suzie’s literally copied all of their ideas from The Happy Dog. Check out the Buzzfeed article I wrote comparing the two: http://www.buzzfeed.com/katiebeam/the-happy-dog-cleveland-vs-suzies-dogs-d-f5rs

    Ultimately, Suzie’s will fail because the food is awful, and the service sucks too.

    To quote Happy Dog’s website, their hotdogs are a “recipe produced for us by Blue Ribbon Meats”.

    The hotdogs at Suzie’s are Sugardale. The same Sugardale you can buy a pack of for $3. Same with corn dogs, they’re straight up from the store and staff actually will run to the corner store to pick up some when they’re out.

    • Awesome article by the way! The photos of the hot dogs don’t look very appealing at all. I was wondering where or what they actually were. The Happy Dog hot dogs are way bigger and obviously have a better flavor I would assume seeing how Sugardale is rubbish they serve at dollar dog nights at Cleveland sporting events. The photos of the staff look like extras from Portlandia. They are just trying to hard to be something they are not. While the concept of a hot dog joint is not original Suzie’s didn’t steal the concept they pretty much stole the entire Happy Dog from menu to staff. I could go on and on. I loved your article on Buzzfeed thanks for bringing it to my attention and taking the time to comment.

    • I don’t disagree with you. However, as someone who is frequently out in Youngstown, I don’t know that Suzie’s will fail. It’s open until 4 and is a stone’s throw from O’Donald’s where last call is at 2. We all know that college kids don’t care about the quality of a hot dog or where it came from or the service when they’re drunk at 2 AM. They just want something that’s greasy and/or smothered in cheese in their bellies. I grew up in Girard, and I know that if Jib Jab was open on my way home from the bar, I’d be there every night. While their idea may be a copy, the placement of the establishment (and what they’ve done to open up the former Old Precinct) is pretty smart. It’s certainly an improvement from what used to be in its location.

  7. I’m a big fan of hot dog shoppes and been to both. Happy Dog is a killer concept but lacks execution. Spent half of my time trying to keep the dog together after the relish was runny and soaked through the bun. Taste was there though which will get me to come back. Suzies serves a better dog but the atmosphere doesn’t touch HD. Both places suck compared to the Franktuary in Pittsburgh. I have to deal with hipsters at all locations which is a bummer.

  8. oh shut the hell up you whiny babies. you should be nothing but flattered to know that you and 10,000,000 others are partaking in gourmet hotdog dining all around the world. sheesh.

  9. I’m originally from Youngstown, but for the past 3 years I’ve lived in Cleveland. Happy Dog is one of my favorite joints! So delicious! I recently visited Ytown and was told I MUST check out Suzies. I did…Happy Dog, you have nothing to worry about. You have the better dogs! Suzies made my order wrong, I took two bites and was not enjoying it, didn’t finish it. My friend said it was the worst hotdog she ever had, and their drinks are pricier than yours. Their atmosphere doesn’t even compare to your authenticity. I like that they are trying to spice up their downtown area with a cool concept, but I agree, I think they took too much influence from Happy Dog. They could have chosen a different side at least! Happy Dog does tator tots, they could have done onion rings or potato wedges! And they have the same concept with their menu where you mark off what you want on a long, skinny paper! Choose a different ordering style! After being in there for 10 minutes, all I could think was “this is a complete rip off of Happy Dog.” I don’t think I’ll be having another Suzies hotdog, but definitely another Happy hotdog!!

  10. I know the owner. He has made more than his fair share of mistakes but the particular ones he’s being accused of here are simply not true. First, didn’t hire any interior designers. The decorating was done by staff. In creating the concept he took his favorite things from “Dirty” in Comumbus, “Happy” in Cleveland, and “Franctuary” in Pittsburg (which, by the way, was serving gourmet dogs a full 5 years before either of the aforementioned). Happy Dog has no claim on the concept or the execution. DIY dogs have been around for at least a decade. Just as Christian did, they saw a fun concept in a larger market and refined it for their own. And regarding quality and sourcing, like any restaurant they experienced problems at the beginning. But they have made more strides to buy local than any other high volume restaurant in the Mahoning Valley.

    I would challenge the writer of this article to research their subjects a little further before sitting down to write. Maybe interview the owner or the chef. You know, things actual writers do?

  11. This is capitalism pure and simple. If you do something well, be prepared to see someone try to make money off your idea. They should be happy it is an hour and a half away and not down the street.

    You are more than entitled to your opinion, but you might want to cround source it next time first.

  12. Not sure why you’re so pissed off about this. Is it the idea ripped off? Yea, probably, but I would venture to say, this is not the first time an original idea has been ripped off in small buisness. If Suzie’s opened up across town from Happy, then I could maybe understand a little more…but they didn’t, and its not like they’re losing buisness to Suzie’s. Nobody is going to drive to Y-town from Cleveland just to visit Suzie’s. There is lot of Parody out there in the buisness world. If I open a Brewpub that serves our own brewed beer and some killer pub food or sandwiches, supports the local music scene, and has a rather trendy atmosphere, am I not ripping off the majority of other brewpubs around the country? All I am saying is, while it may be very similar or ripped off, if it supports the local community and gets people talking or excited, then that is a GOOD thing…which is something Y-town (which is full of the same blue collar, hard working people that cleveland is) desperately needs. Just my opinion, so take it for what its worth.

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