At lunchtime on any given weekday, a crowd of people lines up in front of a vibrant red 200 square-foot restaurant hoping to secure their favorite bowl of soup.
Despite its select mid-day hours Monday through Friday, the restaurant — Le Dog — has had Ann Arbor locals flocking to the East Liberty Street location lunch the past 32 years.
Le Dog owner Jules Van Dyck-Dobos said he knew he wanted to pursue a career in the culinary arts from a young age and was inspired by his grandmother’s cooking in Hungary. After Van Dyck-Dobos’s family relocated to the United States and eventually settled in Ann Arbor, he decided to attend Michigan State University to pursue a culinary arts degree.
During one trip from East Lansing to visit his family in Ann Arbor, Van Dyck-Dobos recalled walking by the boarded-up red shop with his sister and contemplated its potential. It wasn’t until years later that it would become Le Dog.
After graduating from MSU, Van Dyck-Dobos moved to Chicago, where he managed several large-scale restaurants, which sometimes served as many as 5,000 dinners a night. After growing wary of the big city restaurant scene, Van Dyck-Dobos returned to Ann Arbor to open a hot dog stand in a community he said is “more manageable.”
When Le Dog opened in 1979, it sold only lemonade and hot dogs. But the menu has since expanded to include more options and gourmet dishes, like their famous soups.
“I got bored of hot dogs and decided to do all the other things,” Van Dyck-Dobos said.
Since Le Dog occupies a small space, Van Dyck-Dobos said expanding the restaurant’s offerings was difficult.
“We had five people in here working elbow-to-elbow,” Van Dyck-Dobos said.
Despite the limited space and small staff, Le Dog offers an extensive menu, which changes daily. The restaurant offers approximately 300 kinds of soup, which rotate on the menu throughout the year.
With such a large variety and only a few soups served each day, Van Dyck-Dobos urges costumers not to be discouraged if they can’t find their favorite one the day they stop by.
“Just come on by and choose a soup,” he said. “I can almost guarantee if you look at the menu, (you) will find something you like.”
Some of the most popular soups include cheesy chicken tortilla and chicken white chili, which Van Dyck-Dobos attempts to have on sale every day. Another favorite, the lobster bisque, is available on Thursdays and Fridays. Van Dyck-Dobos’s favorites include chicken paprika, veal tarragon and pork curry, which he makes about 10 times a year.
Van Dyck-Dobos estimated that about 40 to 60 percent of his customers are University students — especially at the East Liberty Street location. The restaurant’s second location on Main Street attracts mainly businessmen and women, he said.
Because the East Liberty Street business is so dependent on students, Van Dyck-Dobos said the company struggles a bit during the summer. Despite this, Le Dog doesn’t have a website, Facebook page or any other special offers to accrue additional revenue.
“We do not spend a nickel on advertising,” Van Dyck-Dobos said. “We never have.”
Still, Van Dyck-Dobos hasn’t had difficulty earning national acclaim. Le Dog was featured in an Oct. 7 article in the Chicago Tribune praising his famous soups.
“People know us,” he said. “(Our business) is word of mouth and good will.”