Photography: Travis Commeau
Who doesn’t love a good hot dog? Even for the vegetarians among us, the siren song of a good veggie dog, dressed with fresh toppings and served up on a sunny day, is a tough one to resist. It’s particularly tough to resist in East Nashville, as local favorite I Dream of Weenie has raised the bar on what it means to craft a delicious dog.
Parked on South 11th Street, right in the thick of 5 Points, I Dream of Weenie’s converted VW bus lures locals and tourists alike to check out today’s special — anything from a Pizza Weenie, slathered in mozzarella and sauce, to a Truffle-Mushroom Mac Weenie, piled high with mac and cheese. The bus served its first weenies in 2007, and has since changed hands a couple of times, with current owner Leslie Allen at the helm since April 2011.
Allen is a Birmingham, Alabama, native who moved to Nashville in 2001 and has called East Nashville home since 2003. Before taking over at “the weenie hut,” as she calls it, she worked among the support personnel at Nashville’s now-defunct regional Habitat for Humanity office, and in fundraising at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Community involvement has always been a priority for Allen, who sees her day-to-day work at I Dream of Weenie as another avenue through which she can be an active contributor to her beloved neighborhood.
Though Allen was a lifelong lover of cooking, when she first got the itch to take over I Dream of Weenie, she had very little knowledge of or experience in the restaurant industry. She was working part-time at the nearby Art and Invention Gallery when the weenie hut went up for sale. The hut stayed on the market for a couple of months before it dawned on Allen that I Dream of Weenie could be the creative, community-oriented undertaking she’d been hoping to find.
“I had never worked in a restaurant or done anything food related,” she says, laughing. “I grew up in the kitchen. I love to cook. I love to entertain. I’d catered a couple of friends’ weddings, but I had never actually had a job working in food service at all. So this was just a pipe dream… There’s some horrifying statistic about half of food businesses failing November | December 2018 theeastnashvillian.com 47 within their first year. So that was kind of terrifying. But it was small-scale and already a well-known business, in the neighborhood that I love. So maybe I won’t mess this up.”
Seven years later, it’s clear that Allen has done anything but “mess up” at I Dream of Weenie. The hut has appeared on major television shows like HGTV’s House Hunters and the Travel Channel’s Food Paradise. And more importantly, it’s managed to ride out, survive, and thrive through the tidal wave of growth and development that has swallowed so many other beloved local businesses in the last few years. That, along with the hut’s beloved Pimento Cheese Dog, counts among Allen’s most meaningful achievements.
“We continue to expand our local customer base,” she says. “People always ask whether we have more local customers or more tourists, and I guess that varies on the day of the week, but we absolutely love our regulars that live in the neighborhood. Since it’s now been seven years since I’ve owned it, we’ve gotten to see children as they’ve grown up. Some of them are in college now and they’re starting to drive. It’s been amazing to watch.”