A-List Dropout

A-List Dropout

Henry Adaniya goes from
haute fusion to haute hot dog

In its 12-year life span in Evanston, Illinois, Trio was one of the most influential fusion restaurants in America—famous not just for its food but also for being one of the first places to serve food on unusual surfaces, like granite and mirrors. It also launched no fewer than four chefs who went on to win James Beard Awards, among them Grant Achatz of Alinea. Recently, however, its founder and owner, Henry Adaniya, made a seemingly odd career move. After morphing Trio into the more casual Trio Atelier, he shuttered it last year and headed to Hawaii to open a hot dog joint. Or, rather, haute dog; the fries at Hank’s Haute Dogs take three days to make, and there’s a duck-and-foie-gras wiener on the menu (as well as a seafood dog with miso mayo and daikon relish; bratwurst; chorizo; Polish; Italian; and a variety of homemade condiments). CHOW talked to Adaniya about dropping off the A-list, why he’s selling Chicago hot dogs in Hawaii, and how surfing makes him sick. Mark J. Miller

Where did the idea come from?

Before I was born, my parents ran a concession on Waikiki Beach back in the ’40s and ’50s. I remember hearing stories about them selling hot dogs, cotton candy, ice cream. I was thinking, “I missed the boat!” I was always sheltered from the Hawaii part of my family’s history, and it always intrigued me.

Did the whole high-end restaurant thing just become too stressful?

No, actually, it was going wonderfully. But there were so many things I had achieved over the years with Trio and with Grant [Achatz] especially, that [when Achatz left in 2004] I just said, “I want to do something different.”

Did you worry about what people would say?

I did, but I reveled in the fact that [I was] kind of like the corporate guy who throws away his suits and goes to live on an island. It was something that I really wanted to do, throw away my restaurant “suit” for a while, and do this.

How was Hank’s Haute Dogs received?

On the first day, we were supposed to be open till 4 [p.m.]. We figured we’d have 200 people over six hours. We opened at 10 and we were sold out by 1!

I hear it’s hard to get ingredients and supplies in Hawaii.

It is very difficult. The little guy is kind of lost in a sea of resort hotels. Minimums can run as high as $700 per order, and I only want $100, so we have to find someone specialized.

How do you do that?

It’s just asking a lot of questions, making a lot of phone calls. I was very lucky with the whole Vienna product line from Chicago. They’re shipping out certain kinds of sausage with natural cases, and fortunately their product line is fairly broad. I’m real happy with my hot dogs. Some of the other things are a little more difficult to get.

Like what?

The whole potato thing was extremely distressing. We had been working with [one kind of potato from Idaho] and they weren’t giving us the fry we wanted. I was getting so frustrated I thought, “OK, I’m just going to go to the frozen french fry.” It wouldn’t be all of this fancy hassle. People are used to it. It’s all they eat here: frozen french fries. Some people don’t even get the fact that we’re doing all of this work—that this is a superior fry. [They say,] “I want the crispy curly ones!” Well, we don’t really do that. I know they’re good, but we want a natural, hand-cut fry. So now it’s like, “Phew.” We did get some [good potatoes].

Do customers appreciate your effort?

It’s just an education. Once they understand the language and understand the mind-set behind it, then I think it raises the overall awareness of the quality level. I think we’re pushing that envelope a little bit. The consumer here is very value-conscious, and relatively speaking Hank’s is damn expensive. I mean, they can go to Costco and get a good hot dog for $1.50 with an extra-large drink included. [So they’re saying,] “Like, whoa. Why am I going to spend $4.50 for a hot dog and have to pay for my drink, too?”

How are you marketing Hank’s?

Much of the attraction is that it’s a real Chicago hot dog, and at the finest hot dog places in Chicago, this is what they would serve and in this manner.

Do you surf?

No, I got seasick when I took my surfing lesson. I’ll try it again. It looks like so much fun.

Are you afraid that you won’t ever be able to go back to where you came from?

No, no, no, no. I don’t know. The A-list is still there. I can look at the A-list. I can talk to people on the A-list, but I don’t have to play the A-list. The things I’ve experienced through Trio and my career are just mind-boggling, and I’m so grateful to have that. But when I’m sitting in that hot dog stand, I don’t know, there’s something primal. I get off on serving hot dogs and french fries. Talk to me in five years, and I’ll be like, “OK, I’m way overweight!” But right now I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. Part of it was to rediscover the romance. What are we working for?

Photo-illustration by Sean McCabe