It's been a madhouse at Capitol Avenue and 20th Street in Midtown since Friday. That's when word got out that Mike Brown is closing his popular Midtown restaurant, Capitol Dawg, after lunch today. It opened in March 2008.
"I've been trying everything, but we're just not bringing people through the door," Brown told me Friday. "We've never cut quality or service, but we can't seem to turn the corner economically."
On Saturday and again on Monday, a line of 500-plus hot-dog lovers and well-wishers crowded out of the restaurant, stretched along the sidewalk and snaked down an alley. The wait to place an order both days was 60 to 90 minutes, and that was in on-again, off-again rain between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
This morning, a line of expectant patrons waited patiently for the Capitol Dawg crew to start serving, and by 12:30 p.m. it looked like a safe bet that the Saturday and Monday scenarios would be repeated.
Eyeing the crowd gathering this morning, Brown said, "I expected something like this (beginning Friday), but not to this degree. This is way beyond the (results of media coverage). There must be something else going on. Obviously, the place is so relevant to so many people."
Brown is leaving for Chicago, his former hometown, Thursday morning "to clear my head, enjoy my family and go to the Bears game. I'll say now that because of the response from customers, I feel I have no other choice but to stop and take a look at things. When I get back, I'll sit down with some friends and people in the industry and strategize something that can work."
Is Brown thinking about reopening Capitol Dawg before it formally closes?
"That's within the realm of possibility," he said. "If I were to expand and go to a different location, it would not be with the intention of abandoning this location. This is where Capitol Dawg belongs and where it should succeed."
Sitting at a table inside the restaurant this morning was Wild Bill Hill, who owns the iconic Wild Bill's Tattoo in Roseville. He's known Brown "for a long, long time, back before Capitol Dawg. He's the nicest guy and this was a great place to eat. I'm sad it's closing, but maybe he'll restructure and come back." Hill's go-to lunch is a turkey dog with grilled onion, lettuce and teriyaki sauce.
The line waiting outside was a cross-section of Sacramento's demographics. Standing nearby were Marti Taylor and two fellow attorneys "from a law firm down the street. Today is sad," she said. "We come here once a week, whenever we need a getaway. It's awesome."
Her favorite dog? "I change it up, but usually it's (topped with) cheese, jalepeno, a little mustard, onion...""
Today was retired engineer Steve O'Brien's first visit to Capitol Dawg. "Never been here, thought we'd hit it now before it's too late," he said, poring over a paper menu. His choice? "My wife read a review about this Land Park Dog. It's (topped with) marinara sauce, provolone cheese, grated Parmesan cheese, grilled onions and oregano."
Mike Harris, an engineer, was with his wife, Donna.
"This is one of our favorite places," he said. "It's been a comfortable, exciting place that draws people from all walks of life. It's a great gathering place with a lot of energy."
His favorite is the Capitol Dog - deep-fried in the "Doganator."
"We're regulars," Donna Harris said. "We've enjoyed coming here and we'll miss it. My favorite is the turkey dog. This is the only place it tastes good."