Spokane's Hot Dog Bob is one of downtown's friendliest attractions

click to enlarge Spokane's Hot Dog Bob is one of downtown's friendliest attractions
Young Kwak photo
Every summer, Bob Hetnar is slinging dogs from his downtown corner.

Bob Dog. The Dog Master. Bob the Hot Dog Man.

Robert Hetnar's list of nicknames could rival Beyonce's. The devotion of his fans probably could, too.

Come September, Hetnar will have been selling hot dogs on the corner of Spokane Falls Boulevard and Howard Street for 11 years. He's a lunch spot, a tour guide, a community watchdog and a clock for downtown. The wheeled cart of Spokane Dogs is a semi-permanent attraction for locals and visitors alike. Handing out one of America's most iconic foods, Hetnar himself becomes part man, part myth, part hot dog hat. Slinging sausages isn't for the faint of heart, but at 67, he plans on doing this "forever."

Every year around when the St. Patrick's Day parade is coming, two red and yellow umbrellas pop up outside Boo Radley's and O'Doherty's Irish Grille. The silver cart underneath is filled with relish, ketchup, and buns, but also mango mustard, sauerkraut, and cream cheese.

When Hetnar is ready to start serving around 11 am, he dons an orange apron and 18-inch-tall hot dog hat. A regular at O'Doherty's says seeing Bob the Hot Dog Man is like seeing a robin, each a "harbinger of spring."

But it wasn't always like this. After Hetnar retired from the city's wastewater management department, he was looking for another way to make some dough. He settled on sausages, thinking he could set his own hours, make a quick buck, and save money on advertising, since he figured "there is no one in America that doesn't know what a hot dog is.

"My children all told me I was crazy," Hetnar says. "I told them the net result is, if it works, great. If it doesn't work, I'll make it a planter in my backyard."

The first year was a major money loser. The second year he barely broke even. The third year, Hetnar started to make a profit. And he started working 50 to 60 hours a week.

"People do not realize this, and it's a mistake I made, too," Hetnar says. "I'm only open 11 to 4 for five days a week, so I'm only open 25 hours a week. They think that's a very light schedule."

What people don't see is the prep and the cleanup and the grocery runs and the private events. Every morning before he drives downtown, Hetnar makes a new batch of beef broth and spices to boil his sausages and infuse them with more flavor.

Hetnar grew up in the food industry. When he was 10, his family moved to the Virgin Islands, where his father bought a restaurant and bar. When Hetnar was 21, he moved from St. Croix to Spokane for cheaper rent and has stayed ever since. Except the winters, of course, when he can't sell hot dogs outside and heads south to family in Florida.

Out in the elements, guarding the corner across from Riverfront Park, Hetnar witnesses more of Spokane than most.

"I honestly do love this," Hetnar says. "I enjoy dealing with the people downtown. I've had my picture taken by everybody — from Australia and New Zealand, through Russia, through South America. I've had pictures sent out to both Japan and China."

Hetnar credits his hot dog hat for most of the attention. But he's also the person who will spot lost tourists and offer directions, or get to know the homeless folk who come by, or greet every businessperson who walks by.

"That makes me feel so special," Hetnar says, "when a youngster, a 4- or 5-year-old, walks up, tugs on my apron and goes, 'That was the awesomest hot dog in the whole world!'"

At 10 am on a Thursday, some regulars spot Bob and come over. "You're early!" one man says, as he casually starts setting up Bob's plastic sidewalk sign.

"Yeah, nothing's ready yet," Hetnar says with a welcoming smile.

The rhythm starts and the tempo picks up as Hetnar greets and feeds the summer lunch crowd. The song starts in earnest when the hot dog hat comes out. ♦

Scoops and Bowls @ Manito Park

Sat., July 13, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
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Eliza Billingham

Eliza Billingham is a staff writer covering food, from restaurants and cooking to legislation, agriculture and climate. She joined the Inlander in 2023 after completing a master's degree in journalism from Boston University.