Whip’s Dog Days has been a staple business at the University of Michigan for almost 25 years, serving students Koegel hot dogs at C.C. Little out of the back of a trailer.
Owner LeRoy Whipple has operated the stand alone for 13 years after inheriting it from his father’s friend, Richard Eisley, who ran it for 12 years. In April, Whip’s Dog Days will celebrate its 25th anniversary on campus.
“He had people who had been coming to him for years,” Whipple said. “He was here for 12 years. And he said he had a pretty good clientele base built up. So he didn’t want to just let it go, so he asked me to come out and I fell in love with it.”
The Owosso native works at Barry Bagels at the Westgate Shopping Center in Ann Arbor in the morning and afternoon, where he starts preparing food for the day as early as 7 a.m. He then drives his trailer over to C.C. Little and opens his cart around 10:30 a.m.
Every weekday he fires up the grill and serves a lunchtime crowd. Whipple said he is not in it to get rich, but rather to pay for his son’s education and to make relationships with his customers.
“I do it for the students,” Whipple said. “Students come a lot during their time here and then graduate. My favorite part about being out here is just working with the community and being a part of it. After being out here this long, you become part of Ann Arbor.”
His commitment, he said, stems from his desire to be there for the students since many expect him to be there every day for them. The only things that stop Whip’s Dog Days are snow, heavy wind and rain or sub-zero temperatures.
“It’s the relationships that you build out here, there’s a lot of good people out on the streets,” Whipple said. “As long as you give them good service and good food, everything works out. I would credit it to being persistent and being reliable. People know you’re here.”
Whipple said he has gotten to know several students throughout the years, many of whom often come back to visit after they graduate.
“The nice thing is that I get to know them because they become regulars,” Whipple said. “Then once they graduate, I’ve had a lot of them, over the years, come back and just visit me. Then we catch up. They see how I’m doing, I see how they’re doing.”
He credits his success largely to the convenience and the prices of his products. Despite many competitors over the years who told Whipple they were going to shut him down, Whip’s Dog Days has remained, albeit with some changes.
“I created the dog of the day and I made my own homemade mustard,” Whipple said. “And I just got more creative to offer more things. We’ve had the same menu. But sometimes I bring out different soups and I added bagels and cream cheese.”
Engineering sophomore John Cohen said he visits Whipple’s stand frequently on Monday’s and Wednesday’s since he has classes from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and can get food quickly.
“This is somewhere pretty close and cheap and just makes hot food,” Cohen said. “It’s convenient because I’m going up to north right now and it’s right by the bus stop. Everything kind of clicks.”
Other characteristics Whipple said have helped him outlast competitors are his friendly service, a central location, low prices and a high-quality product.
“The convenience of it, being where it’s located is big,” Whipple said. “They’re in a hurry. They have to get to class. I keep my prices low to where it’s affordable. It’s a good quality product. There are people who come and go, but the thing is, is they don’t run it like a business. Students come to me and tell me they care. I think that’s the success over the years: being here for people.”
Since he runs his stand on a college campus, Whipple said he likes to keep his prices low. He still only accepts cash, as he prefers that over using credits cards, saying he would have to push his prices up to pay for new technology.
“Students don’t have a lot of money,” Whipple said. “I like to keep my prices low so I can keep a high volume of customers.”
When Whipple packs up at 3 p.m. and drives his trailer back to the garage where he cleans up for the day, he said he is satisfied he was able to be on campus making an impact on the lives of others.
“It’s the people,” Whipple said. “It’s about being out with the people. It makes for a good day.”