Updated March 13, 2019.
You’ve probably heard it said that you wouldn’t want to see what goes into the making of a hot dog, and yet the companies on this list of the top five hot dog franchises have found great success. Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to buy into one of these proven business concepts that clearly meet the widespread demand for an American staple – the hot dog. In fact, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates that Americans eat 20 billion hot dogs a year.
When Chevrolet set out to capture the essence of American culture in a jingle for an advertising campaign in the 1970s, copywriter James Hartzell came up with “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet,” which became one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time. If hot dogs weren’t already considered a pillar of Americana before that, they certainly were afterwards when the whole nation was humming the tune. Now if they could just solve the problem of hot dogs being sold typically in packs of ten while hot dog buns come in packs of eight…
Look at the founding dates for all but one of the companies on this list: 1916, 1946, 1953, and 1961. Hot dogs are clearly a tried-and-true commodity. But then the fifth company on the list was started quite recently in 2010 as a “better dog” hot dog concept (like the better burger movement). From tried-and-true to new gourmet concepts, here are the five best hot dog franchises of 2019:
1. Sonic Drive-In
Sonic Drive-In has the impressive ranking of #3 (up from #6 last year) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list.
It was Troy Smith back in the early 1950s who took a root beer and hot dog stand called Top Hat in Shawnee, Oklahoma and dreamed of turning it into a vibrant drive-in concept with multiple locations. Six years later, in partnership with Charles Pappe, they started franchising under the name Sonic Drive-In.
People pull into designated parking spots and enjoy made-to-order food delivered to their vehicle by carhops. Unlike standing in line at a counter or waiting in line for a drive-thru, the 25 parking stalls at each Sonic location mean each customer is always first in line.
The chain has also found great success in its Two Guys ad campaign that is among the longest-running in the industry, having started all the way back in 2004.
Sonic has a wide-ranging menu but honors its hot dog stand roots with five signature dogs: All-American Dog, New York Dog, Chili Cheese Coney, Footlong Chili Cheese Coney, and a Corn Dog.
Founded in 1953 and franchising since 1959, the number of locations has held mostly steady in recent years and currently stands at 3,593 (an increase of 36 from last year), all of which are in the U.S. and 228 of which are company-owned.
Wienerschnitzel is a family-owned company that got its start back in 1961 with a single location established by John Galardi in Southern California.
Hot dogs are front-and-center on the menu, with 12 signature dogs: Chili Cheese Dog, Chili Dog, Green Chile Chili Cheese Dog, Corn Dog, Chicago Dog (topped with fresh tomato, fresh onions, pickle spear, relish, sport peppers, tangy French’s mustard, and sprinkled with celery salt), Junkyard Dog (topped with French Fries, chili sauce, a slice of American cheese, French’s mustard, and grilled onions), Deluxe Dog (topped with fresh tomato, fresh chopped onions, pickle spear, and tangy French’s mustard), Bacon Street Dog (topped with a slice of crisp bacon, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, and grilled diced onions), Relish Dog, Kraut Dog, Mustard Dog, and Mini Corn Dogs.
Any of the dogs on the menu can be ordered as all-beef hot dogs or with Polish sausage. Rounding out the menu are burgers, sandwiches, fries and snacks, breakfast options, and Tastee Freez soft-serve ice cream desserts.
This company currently ranks #126 (up from #166 last year) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1961 and franchising since 1965, the number of locations hasn’t changed much in recent years and currently stands at 323 (up from 320 last year), none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the U.S.
3. Nathan’s Famous
Nathan’s Famous got its start all the way back in 1916 when Nathan Handwerker, an immigrant from Poland, borrowed $300 to start up a nickel hot dog stand on Coney Island using his wife’s secret recipe.
The original restaurant is still there at the corner of Stilwell and Surf and is where the company has held its popular Hot Dog Eating Contest each year on the 4th of July since the first one in 1916. Contestants compete for the coveted Mustard Belt. Joey “Jaws” Chestnut racked up his 10th win in 2017 by polishing off 72 dogs in the men’s competition while Miki Sudo took the women’s belt by downing 41 dogs.
The hot dog menu features the World Famous Beef Hot Dog, the Chili Dog, the Chili Cheese Dog, and the Corn Dog on a Stick. The menu also includes Philly Cheesesteaks, Chicken Classics, Crinkle-Cut Fries, Onion Rings, Hamburgers, and Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips.
Famous regular patrons over the years have included Al Capone, Jimmy Durante, and Cary Grant. Founded in 1916 and franchising since 1988, the number of locations reported in its SEC filing for the quarter ended September 30, 2018 was 270, five of which were company-owned, spread across 22 states and 12 foreign countries.
4. Hot Dog on a Stick
Hot Dog on a Stick got its start back in the 1940s when Dave Barham decided to add a new item to his Party Puffs food stand in Santa Monica, California. He was already selling ice cream cones and lemonade, but then he used his mother’s corn bread recipe to perfect his original concept of a hot dog on a stick.
He renamed his stand Hot Dog on a Stick and also started traveling around to county fairs to sell the product. It was a hit and soon his stands started appearing in malls as well. The original Muscle Beach location is still in operation today, serving up made-to-order hot dogs.
Patrons can choose a turkey dog, veggie dog, or Nathan’s Famous all-beef hot dog that is dipped into the proprietary Party Batter and cooked on the spot. Rounding out the menu are Cheese on a Stick, Hand-Stomped Lemonade, French Fries, and Funnel Cake Sticks.
The company website has a great page showing off all the famous celebrities who have had their photo taken at Hot Dog on a Stick – and it’s an impressive list.
This company currently ranks #276 (a big jump from #432 last year) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1946 and franchising since 1997, the number of locations currently stands at 74 (representing a steady decline from its 2013 high of 107 units), of which 45 are company-owned and nine of which are located outside the U.S.
5. Dog Haus
Dog Haus loves engaging in wordplay with its name. Since everyone knows being “in the dog house” is a bad thing, the company has made the most of it in its branding: Dog Haus – The Absolute Würst.
The company has taken the idea of the “better burger” movement and brought it to hot dogs. The result is a “craft casual hot dog concept” serving up gourmet hot dogs, burgers, and fried chicken sandwiches.
It was started by a trio of friends (Hagop Giragossian, Quasim Riaz, and André Vener) in Pasadena, California. It uses all-beef dogs and hand-crafted sausages with no added nitrates and served on King’s Hawaiian rolls. Customers may choose from signature Haus creations or customize their own dogs with all kinds of toppings.
Haus creations include creatively named offerings such as the Sooo Cali (topped with wild arugula, spicy basil aioli, crispy onions, avocado, and tomato), the Scott Baioli (smoked bacon wrapped dog, cheddar cheese sauce, caramelized onions, and garlic aioli) and the Free Bird (turkey dog, avocado, tomato, smoked bacon, and miso ranch). Also on tap are craft beers focused on local offerings.
Founded in 2010 and franchising since 2013, the number of locations currently stands at 31, all of which are in the U.S. and none of which is company-owned.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.