Revised and updated January 4, 2020.
Few things are more American than the humble hot dog, thanks in large part to the incredibly catchy jingle created back in the 1970s by Chevrolet: “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.” Entrepreneurs who want to make the most of this particular slice of Americana can take a closer look at these 5 best hot dog franchises of 2020.
According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans eat 20 billion hot dogs each year, which averages out to an eye-popping 70 hot dogs per person. There must be some folks who eat many more than that to make up for those who don’t eat nearly that many. There is still the mystery of why hot dogs are sold in packs of 10 while hot dog buns tend to come in packs of eight.
Four out of five of the companies on this list have been in business for a long time, ranging from 59 to 104 years, which is impressive. The new kid on the block in the hot dog segment is a “better dog” chain that was started in 2010. Here are the top 5 hot dog franchises of 2020:
1. Sonic Drive-In
Sonic Drive-In started out as a hot dog stand but soon evolved into a full drive-in concept where customers dine on made-to-order fast food delivered to parked cars by carhops, often on roller skates. Maintaining a connection to its hot dog stand roots, Sonic offers three signature hot dogs, including the Footlong Quarter Pound Coney, the All American, and the Chili Cheese Coney.
The menu also has cheeseburgers, breakfast burritos, chicken sandwiches, boneless chicken wings, jumbo popcorn chicken, chicken tenders, lots of snacks and sides, milkshakes, ice cream cones, and sundaes.
Founded by Troy Smith in Shawnee, Oklahoma in 1953 and franchising since 1959, the number of locations has held mostly steady in recent years and currently stands at 3,600 (an increase of seven locations from the previous year), 176 of which are company-owned and all of which are in the US.
Wienerschnitzel, which claims to have the world’s most wanted wiener, has an impressive menu of 12 signature hot dogs, including such creative options as the Green Chile Chili Cheese Dog and the Junkyard Dog topped with French fries, chili sauce, a slice of American cheese, French’s mustard, and grilled onions. Each of their offerings can be ordered with an all-beef dog or a Polish sausage.
The menu also includes burgers, sandwiches, breakfast options, snacks and sides, and Tastee Freez frozen treats.
Founded by John Galardi in Southern California in 1961 and franchising since 1965, the number of locations hasn’t changed much in recent years and currently stands at 325 (up from 323 in the previous year), none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
3. Nathan’s Famous
Nathan’s Famous is the granddaddy of hot dogs on this list, having been founded over a century ago when the Coney Island hot dog stand sold its dogs for just a nickel. The famous hot dog stand in the iconic Coney Island amusement park has had some very famous regular patrons over the years including Cary Grant, Jimmy Durante, and even the famous gangster Al Capone (aka Scarface).
An essential part of the Nathan’s brand is its annual hot dog eating contest held every July 4th in which the person who downs the most dogs gets the Mustard Belt. The 2019 winner in the men’s contest was Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who racked up his 12th title by stuffing down 71 dogs. For the women, Miki Sudo won by downing 31 dogs.
In addition to its signature dogs, the menu also features Philly cheesesteaks, chicken classics, crinkle-cut fries, onion rings, hamburgers, and Arthur Treacher’s fish and chips.
Founded by Nathan Handwerker in the Brooklyn borough of New York City in 1916 and franchising since 1988, the number of locations has been declining in recent years from a peak of 320 in 2014 to the current total of 262, of which four are company-owned and 43 are located outside the US.
4. Hot Dog on a Stick
Hot Dog on a Stick isn’t just a hot dog on a stick – it’s a corn dog on a stick! The stand’s first location back in the 1940s was on Muscle Beach, which is currently being taken down and rebuilt. Patrons have the choice of a Nathan’s Famous all-beef hot dog, turkey dog, or veggie dog that is dipped in the Party Batter (based on the corn bread recipe of the founder’s mother) and cooked to order. The menu also features cheese on a stick, hand-stomped lemonade, French fries, and funnel cake sticks.
The company has been employee-owned since 1991 when the founder died, and also successfully navigated a bankruptcy filing in 2014. Founded by Dave Barham in Santa Monica, California in 1946 and franchising since 1997, the number of locations currently stands at 62 (representing an overall decline from its 2013 high of 107), of which 44 are company-owned and one is located outside the US.
5. Dog Haus
Dog Haus is bringing the “better burger” movement to hot dogs in a more upscale, trendy approach to hot dogs that includes craft beer and craft cocktails created by celebrity mixologists. The chain’s all-beef dogs and handcrafted sausages are all nitrate-free and are served up on King’s Hawaiian rolls. There are eight creatively-named signature haus dogs, eight signature haus sausages, seven signature haus burgers, a haus chicken sandwich (the Bad Mutha Clucka), several plant-based options (Impossible Burger and Beyond Sausage brands), sliders, sides, and ice cream desserts.
Founded by a trio of friends (Hagop Giragossian, Quasim Riaz, and André Vener) in Pasadena, California in 2010 and franchising since 2013, the number of locations currently stands at 33, all of which are in the US and two of which are 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.