While the dog days of summer may be dwindling, the hot dog days are just getting under way in Fenwick Island, as Twilley’s Hot Dog Hut opened its doors last week, just in time for Labor Day. Owned by Fenwick local Mark Twilley, who brings extensive restaurant-industry experience, the venture has been a long time in the making.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. To actually be in the town I grew up in — it’s awesome, it makes it even better,” he said of being able to launch a business in his home town. “A lot of friends and family have come in to help support me, and I’m greatly appreciative of that and, hopefully, the word of mouth spreads and [we] just keep picking up the business.”
Twilley said he got the idea for the business when he and his girlfriend, Tara Sansone, were brainstorming ideas for things that the area was missing.
“We always wanted to start our own place,” he explained. “[Tara is] from Cape May, and there’s a couple places in Southern Jersey that are this concept, and I just noticed that there wasn’t anything in the area, so I decided to go for it.”
The shop, located right off Route 1 in the Village of Fenwick, across the street from the beach, features a casual atmosphere for beach-goers and patrons to either dine in or carry out.
“I definitely want a little surf hut. I have a surfboard I’m gonna put up there, surf pictures up, play surf DVDs — kind of a beachy theme, very casual,” Twilley explained of the atmosphere. “Come in off the beach with your board shorts, flops, no flops — you can come in no shirt, no shoes, no problem.”
To ensure that customers can get back to the beach as quickly as possible, the shop usually boils their 100 percent beef, gluten-free dogs — but Twilley said that, if a customer wants their hot dog grilled, they’re more than happy to do it.
“Our dogs are all boiled, but I can grill them if you’d like,” he said. “I want a good, fast product, so you don’t have to lose much beach time. Come off the beach, grab a hot dog, and — boom — you’re back to the beach.”
While customers won’t have to wait long to get their lunch, it may take them a while to decide what to order, as the shop offers a wide variety of custom-made hot dog creations inspired by cities that are famous for them.
“I wanted to incorporate cities that specialize and are known for their types of hotdogs,” Twilley said of creations like the Baltimore, with crab meat, Old Bay and mac-and-cheese. “[My favorite] right now would be the Chicago — it’s a good classic; it’s very loaded up, got a little bite to it.”
In addition to the city dogs, the menu also features a few “Twilley Dogs,” such as the fried bacon dog with barbecue sauce and cheddar, the Cubano with swiss and pulled pork, and the Caprese with mozzarella, fresh tomato, basil and balsamic vinegar.
If one of the city dogs or other custom dogs isn’t what you had in mind, you can also create your own dog using any of the fixings, or order one of the many other menu items offered aside from hot dogs.
“I wanted to have some things other than hot dogs, a little healthier,” Twilley explained, noting some of his house-made salads, fish tacos, pulled pork tacos, veggie or barbecue chicken paninis, and chicken wraps.
One of the more unique menu items was inspired by his wintertime home of Puerto Rico, as he has incorporated both chicken and tuna “pinchos” as a tribute to a country that has become his second home.
“My take on Puerto Rico — a pincho is basically like a skewer, a kabob,” he explained. “The chicken I marinate in a sofrito, dress it up with a little barbecue sauce and piece of bread on top; and same with the fish — tuna cooked to temp on a skewer served with tartar sauce.”
After a successful and busy opening week and Labor Day weekend, the shop will stay open through October and could stay open even later into the season, depending on business. This spring, however, Twilley plans on opening back up in April and kicking off their first full summer with a grand opening and even a hot dog eating contest.
“I’m hoping to do a hot dog eating contest, maybe Memorial Day weekend,” he said. “I know July 4th is the Coney Island Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, but maybe Memorial Day weekend or a few weekends before, and really kick off the season.”
Currently, the shop is open Thursday to Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Orders can be called in at (302) 581-0255 or find out more on their Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/Twilleyshotdog.