Victor Werany and his hot dog cart, Vic the Chili Man, are Uptown fixtures at lunch time. Equal parts entertainer and hot dog connoisseur, Vic’s got a loyal following. If you show up between 11:45 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. there will definitely be a line of hungry people, although he keeps the crowd laughing, so the wait’s not so bad.
Vic the Chili Man is currently rated on Yelp as (get this) the #1 restaurant in Charlotte. Cam Newton, a regular customer, raves about Vic’s vegetarian dogs, and Vic points to Hugh McColl and the entire horn section of the Brian Setzer Orchestra as well-known customers as well.
Vic spent years in the Charlotte restaurant scene, but his somewhat big personality wasn’t always appreciated by management, Vic said. So he bought a hot dog cart and started his own business. It was there that his sense of fun became an asset rather than a hindrance. Case in point, his “Bob’s Burgers” weekly summer specials.
For those unfamiliar with the animated series, Bob runs a hamburger restaurant and his arch-rival is Jimmy Pesto, the pizza maker across the street. On one episode Bob yelled “Jimmy Pesto is an idiot!” during a TV spot. Channeling Bob, Vic changed his “Pizza Dog” to “Jimmy Pesto is an Idiot” and after that all of the summer specials have been inspired by Bob’s Burger of the Day.
So far this summer there’s been The Bruschetta-bout it Dog, The Stupid Black Garlic Dog, The Free to Brie You and Me Dog, The Puoutine on the Ritz Dog, The New Bacon-ings Dog, The Onion-tended Consequences Dog, The Poblano Picasso Dog, The Foot Feta-ish Dog and The Bahn You, Bahn Me Dog.
Of course people don’t wait in line in the stifling Charlotte heat just for banter and clever names. They’re sweating it out for the dogs. What makes them so good? Vic says, “Love! And constant attention to detail, quality and health rules.”
Ok, but what else? He toasts the buns, even though it takes longer. He serves only 100 percent all beef Kahn’s dogs and — vegetarians take note — Smart Food veggie dogs. Besides that famous chili, he offers a huge range of toppings for a little hot dog stand: veggie chili on Wednesdays, cheese, slaw, jalapenos, relish, mustard, spicy mustard, ketchup, spicy ketchup, fresh cut red onion, his homemade “Taco Juice,” numerous homemade BBQ sauces (on a rotating basis), buffalo wing sauce, Creole Aioli, pickles, blue cheese (sometimes), bacon/pepper ranch (sometimes) and whatever craziness he comes up with for the weekly special.
Speaking of ketchup, I had to ask him if he judges people who get ketchup on their dogs. “I try not to,” he says. “I am a mustard man, and a spicy mustard man to be exact. But at the end of the day, if you are buying my dog, you’ve already made the right choice!”
The most popular special he ever served was The Frito Pie Dog. It was such a hit he added it to the menu this year. It’s made up of grilled cheddar cheese, spicy homemade mustard, “Taco Juice,” chili, red onion, jalapeno, garlic and onion infused sour cream and crushed chili cheese Fritos. Vic says, “It’s bananas!”
Besides hot dogs, Vic contributes to Charlotte through the charity SHRED (Skaters Helping Realize Extraordinary Dream) for Gabe, which raises money for families of children with Spina Bifida at skate deck art shows and other events. One last note: While in line, you might catch some Chili Dog Magic and meet someone special. Two of Vic’s regulars who met in line are now a couple.
As Vic says, “Cupid’s arrow sometimes looks like a chili dog.”
Vic the Chili Man: 4th and Tryon Streets; Tuesday through Friday, from around 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Photos: David Saunders