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Iconic Route 66 Dog Haus Still Taking it Easy

If the vibrant colors of the Dog Haus drive-though on East Route 66 in downtown Flagstaff seem friendly and familiar, it may be because they are the colors of ketchup and mustard.

They are also the colors of another classic American fast-food empire, Der Wienerschnitzel, founded in 1961 in Los Angeles and specializing in hot dogs.

The A-frame design and central drive-through slot are also inspired by the older hot dog joint. The Flagstaff version has a warning sign over the drive-through:

“If in Doubt Back Out,” posted next to the seven-foot clearance sign.

In fact, today’s Dog Haus used to be a Der Wienerschnitzel establishment, explained Matthew McElfresh, who has worked at the eatery since he was a kid, after his dad, Gary McElfresh, bought the business in 1973.

“The building was built in the late 1960s,” said McElfresh, who has served as the general manager since 1993. “The design started with John Galardi [Wienerschnitzel founder]; he built them all over the Southwest.”

In November 2017, a change came to the popular venue when Gary McElfresh sold his business to longtime Flagstaff resident Bill Unkovich, who plans to keep up the Old Route 66 legacy and charm of the Dog Haus.

“Gary and family created a local legend with everything they did over the years,” Unkovich observed. “All of his boys and grandchildren have worked at the restaurant, too. Great food, great atmosphere and super-personalized service: A wonderful reflection of Route 66 charm and history from the old days. Gary poured his heart and soul into this business and the community; we feel it to be a privilege to continue his example and legacy to the City of Flagstaff.”

Part of that Route 66 charm comes from the hot dog establishment’s connection to a hit rock n’ roll song, “Take it Easy,” written by songwriter Jackson Browne in 1971 and performed by The Eagles in 1972. The better-known connection is with the town of Winslow, Arizona and the “…standing on a corner” lyrics in the song.

However, in past interviews, Browne has said he was in the back of a paneled van after his car broke down in Flagstaff and some new friends offered him a ride to Los Angeles. He was inspired to write some of the lyrics to the song after seeing a woman in a truck pulling out of what was then the red-and-mustard colored Wienerschnitzel restaurant at the corner of East Route 66 and North Switzer Canyon.

Laminated copies of the story of this music history have long been posted in the restaurant windows.

The article “Der” was dropped from the restaurant name in 1977, and McElfresh said his dad changed the name from Wienerschnitzel to Dog Haus in about 2000. The family had moved from San Diego to Flagstaff so Gary could take over the business.

“He went to Wienerschnitzel School,” he said about his dad. “They taught him how to make everything right.”                                                     The traditional Wienerschnitzel menu has nothing to do with the recipe for the famous Viennese breaded veal cutlets, but instead gained popularity by topping the humble hot dog with chili.

“Half the items that come out of here have chili,” Unkovich said. “People come out here for the chili.”

A secret McElfresh family chili recipe includes a custom blend of 16 seasonings mixed in a power blender, Matt said.

Patrons also come for other tasty items on the menu, such as beer-battered onion rings, corn dogs, guacamole burgers and the award-winning breakfast croissants, honored in The Los Angeles Times in an April 2017 article, McElfresh noted.

The Dog Haus has also won the Arizona Daily Sun’s Best of Flagstaff award for best breakfast burrito and best hot dog for 15 years in a row, he added.

“Everyone I know has a favorite Dog Haus meal,” Unkovich said. “It’s Flagstaff comfort food, old-school atmosphere and people who are happy and smiling when they come to the Dog Haus.”

About 14 enthusiastic employees (more in the summer) help deliver on the Dog Haus reputation for good food and service.

Unkovich said he is not planning any changes in the menu for the moment.

“But, we will be adding a couple of new items like an awesome BLT on our famous croissant, a Patty Melt (double) and also a Breakfast Burger,” he said. “We also hope to streamline some operations behind the scenes to make your dining experience even better going forward.”

This is the first time he has owned a business, Unkovich said, but he is not a newcomer to the Dog Haus, having been a customer there since moving to Flagstaff 25 years ago from Southern California.

“I’ve known Gary McElfresh for a number of years as a customer and some past business dealings,” he said. “Our extended family, including our two daughters and two young grandchildren, all love the Dog Haus…We, my wife, Terri, and myself, love being associated with such an iconic local establishment.”

His family reflects the general attitude toward the restaurant.

“We have customers from three to 90 years old,” Unkovich said. “A lot of kids, they make their parents come here.” FBN

By Betsey Bruner, FBN

 

Photo caption:

New Dog Haus owner Bill Unkovich building on tradition of offering Flagstaff comfort food to fans of all ages.

Photo by Betsey Bruner

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