Bowzers owner Shawn Mulligan is a hot dog hero
You really can't miss Bowzers. The red and yellow concrete igloo located next to a train track in Brice is literally the brightest thing around the well-known East Side speed trap. The restaurant is open year-round, serving hot dogs and ice cream to folks who dine al fresco on picnic tables, or wait for to-go orders in the expansive parking lot. Owned by Shawn Mulligan, an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word, the restaurant is a one-man operation. To raise the money for the upgrades needed to outfit the former ice cream stand, Mulligan went with one of the most ubiquitous fundraising techniques found in high schools around Central Ohio:
He bought and sold Anthony Thomas candy bars for nine months. His creative take on hot dogs debuted to the public in August of 2016.
In some ways, the menu at Bowzers is simple. The restaurant offers up Angus beef hot dogs in two sizes (labeled “dog” and “pup”). Customers can also go with a turkey dog or a veggie dog. Sides include bagged potato chips, baked beans, slaw and German potato salad. And for dessert, there's soft serve ice cream (the real stuff, not “ice milk,” like at Dairy Queen, Mulligan is quick to share) coming from a machine that has had its share of issues. (Mulligan does most of his own mechanical maintenance, and is happy to chat about his repairs, down to the price of parts.)
Once hot dog toppings are added (or inserted, in some cases), the menu reveals itself as quite elaborate. This is not a typical hot dog joint.
Take the Junkyard Dog ($5.25, dog-size). This steamed dog is topped with hearty amounts of coleslaw, Coney sauce, two stripes of ketchup and one stripe of mustard (yes, the menu is this specific), and topped with diced onions and shredded cheese. Gloppy and delicious, this dog is best consumed outside.
Some dogs are first ordered out of curiosity, but are worthy of a reorder. The Hangover ($6.75, dog-size) involves a stick of beef jerky inserted into the center of a hot dog. According to Mulligan, it took three weeks to find a tool to properly insert the one meat product inside the other in this enormous and whimsical dish.
Mulligan takes his specials seriously. October brings bison dogs. During hunting season, it's venison dogs. And this summer, he brought in gator dogs (made in Louisiana) and sold them with a house-made Creole rice. Passionate about constructing outstanding hot dog creations, he shared his process for determining just how much spice to add, and what makes a traditional Creole rice.
Not often do diners elsewhere get one-on-ones with the chef about his conceptual thinking on operating a restaurant, building a menu item and even marketing efforts. At Bowzers, this is the norm. (Mulligan plans on programing his own smartphone app by reverse engineering another popular app.) It's clear that the draw for Bowzers, besides its unpretentious and thoughtful fare, is Mulligan himself. Come for the dogs. Stay for the conversation.