As you drive down Lower Wetumpka Road away from downtown Montgomery, you begin to enter a neighborhood that is probably not too familiar to you and hardly warrants incentive to visit. Long-abandoned shotgun houses and what appears to be boarded-up section 8 apartments line either side of the road as you roll towards this part of town. It almost feels helpless and it certainly feels forgotten.
You’ll eventually come up on a brightly colored building with eye-catching murals and a welcoming entrance, That’s My Dog Junior. It claims to be the first teen-ran restaurant in the country; everyone from general manager on down is less than twenty-years-old. Both the general manager and assistant general manager are sixteen.
That’s My Dog Junior is the sister restaurant to That’s My Dog and part of the greater That’s My Child enterprise. That’s My Dog, the original restaurant, can be found over on Jeff Davis Avenue. It serves up hot dogs with whacky topping offerings, presented to you in your own dog food bowl. You don’t go there for the top notch food nor for the impeccable atmosphere; you go there for the feel-good experience. That’s My Dog has never felt particularly worth the extra steps to me because I’m never in the neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly fine lunch. They also have a food cart downtown that you may have seen. But That’s My Dog Junior? I’ll go the distance.
The entirely teen-operated expansion is set in a colorful building envoking a cheery, light atmosphere. Arcade games, a pool table, and an air hockey table are set up for young people to pass the time. A stage suggests there’s live music coming our way. I’ve heard the space changes in the evening to provide a haven for teenagers to hang out. I’ve also heard from at least one source that it’s only open to the public (meaning adults) for lunch.
I’ve been to lunch there for both days it’s been open so far and have been genuinely – not patronizingly – impressed with the professionalism of the staff. In other words: these young people are knocking it out of the park.
The food will make a great spot for an easy, affordable, and (especially) fun meal. It’s the type of spot I’ll dip into now and then and definitely take friends and family who come to town. I highly recommend ordering a dog (obviously) with any toppings you like – especially the secret sauce. I prefered yesterday’s dog over today’s nachos, but if you go to a place that serves Cool Ranch Dorito nachos to you out of a dog bowl and then you complain about the quality of your culinary experience, you really need to reevaluate your priorities. Try the nachos if you wanna. I prefer the dogs. Specifically, I absolutely love that they offer veggie dogs alongside the normal dogs you’d expect. The menu is surprisingly varied and presents a number of enticing things for us to try. Did I see cheese fries on there, too?
Like That’s My Dog, the new spot serves its wares in rainbow dog food bowls. The menu is similar but bigger than the original location. The whole experience is as unpretentious as it gets. A friend of mine says – and I hesitate to type this – that the dogs are better than those found at Chris’s. Let the record show that Marauder has no official stance on who serves the best hot dogs at this time, and that I ate no less than four Chris’s dogs at the last Dragon Boat Festival on the riverfront.
The proceeds for That’s My Dog Junior benefit That’s My Child, the teen leadership program with over 150 young people who are ready to take on the world. You can literally help address the lousy opportunities for youth in Montgomery by buying a single hotdog, which comes in at a whopping $2.50 (pre-toppings, of course).
Do yourself a favor and try it out for lunch just once. Encourage someone else to go. You’re making Montgomery better, meeting young people who are changing the status quo, and eating tasty food by doing so.
It’s admittedly outrageous that a hot dog place is on the frontlines of youth leadership for underserved teens in a city that simultaneously hosts some of the best high schools and the worst high schools in the country. Youth shouldn’t be neglected by their public schools and hot dog shops shouldn’t be celebrated as a holy grail chance at giving these hard workers an avenue out of the rotten luck they were born into, but we find ourselves here when funding for public schools is slashed and potential opportunity suffers.
This is a chance for us to vote. We vote with our dollar, and the kind of community I want is one where young people are given opportunities to seek a better life.
Go eat a hot dog already.