Berkley’s new hot dog joint Atomic Dawg is in full swing this week after locals packed the house when it opened for a sneak peek during the Berkley Art Bash on Saturday.
Owner Joel Bacow and his team of friends and staff had their hands full serving nearly 300 people in around three hours Saturday — all gratis. Bacow said it was an “overwhelming” response and as first-time restaurant owners, they couldn’t even anticipate such a welcoming first day.
“We’ve never done this before,” he said Saturday, serving hundreds of free hot dogs as people checked out the two-floor remodeled house.
Tom Court of Grosse Pointe brought his grandchildren, 9-year-old Gracie and 5-year-old Ethan Zimmer, to get a taste of the gourmet “dawgs” and slips (as opposed to French fries). He heard about the free lunch offer to sample the place through work and said it was as delicious as people were saying it would be.
“It’s good. Very crowded, but what are you going to do?” he said with a laugh.
Though the freebies aren’t happening any longer, the good news is that the restaurant has had its grand opening and the lines aren’t out the door to get the new Atomic Dawg experience.
The idea and team behind it all
Atomic Dawg is designed as old-school steel and chrome diner with a vegetarian-friendly menu and laid-back vibe with beats like Bob Marley’s playing in the background.
Bacow, who is in the music industry, teamed up with close friends to be his business partners to fulfill a lifelong dream of his to open a diner.
Co-manager Kristy Levy (who is Bacow’s trainer, too) said it might not be a traditional business model, but it works for them.
“Joel pulled us all together. In his mind, he put people here he could trust and people who work hard together,” she said.
“Joel is in music and that’s his life, but then he’s always had an idea, just because he’s very creative, to put together a hot dog diner. It’s been his passion to do this for a fun thing. He found the place, which was a house, gutted it and just put all of his artistic ideas and talents into it. The end result is absolutely unbelievable.”
The rest of the team includes co-manager Salvatore Aiello and chef Gary Brunner. Leby said they also decided to bring Berkley High School students on board, helping some of them get their first summer jobs.
“We want to stay community-oriented,” she said.
With the stainless steel bartops, old-time radio playing funk and soul and retro throwbacks like glass-bottle sodas, Levy said the diner is set up to be a new hangout for Berkley.
“It’s a low-key, real cool retro feel. It’s got a really good vibe to it,” she said.
Taking on Bacow’s vision to make it all happen was West Bloomfield designer Celia Block of Handpainted Rooms. She’s been in the business 12 years and said when she was fixing up the 1921 house, she did things to “give it pizazz.”
“We wanted to capture the Atomic Age and also make each room different,” she explained, adding that the feel gets more retro as guests move to the back rooms.
Upstairs and through the doors to the left is where you’ll find Block’s favorite dining room: a retro orange and turquoise room.
Each room has old-fashioned fixtures and hand-designed details, like accented walls and vintage diner pieces, too.
With as much effort as Bacow and his team put into creating the perfect retro and fun feeling in their diner, even more was put into the menu, Brunner said.
Brunner, who used to own Café 317 in Royal Oak, promises customers are in for a one-of-a-kind experience at Atomic Dawg, with homemade everything.
He says his creations there are good for the tummy and the eyes. “Everything is bright and colorful. It’s good looking and good tasting,” he explained, while listing off all the freshest toppings used at Atomic Dawg, such as fire-roasted peppers, sweet onions, his grandma’s homemade marinara sauce and his special bean veggie burger with herbs and spices.
“My philosophy is simple: If you’re making even a grilled cheese, make it the best grilled cheese you’ve ever had. Get the best cheese, the freshest bread, do it nice. That’s all you’ve got to do,” he said, adding that he challenges anyone to make a better grilled cheese sandwich than he does.
His other philosophy is about Atomic Dawg not just being a diner, but being Berkley’s diner, open to everyone.
“We want people to think they are coming to our home and we’ll pull out all the stops every time to impress, just like a host," he said. "That’s what we want to do for everyone.”
About Atomic Dawg
- Where: 2705 Coolidge Hwy., Berkley
- Hours: To start off, Atomic Dawg is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, but will eventually expand hours of operation.
- When to go: A new “featured dawg” will be offered each week, beginning with the Jamaican-inspired creation this week.
- Contact: Call 248-398-DAWG
- Learn more: 7 things to know about Atomic Dawg