Hollywood fame on a bun
The gig: Co-owners of the Pink’s hot dog stand. Richard Pink, 65, his sister, Beverly Pink Wolfe, and his wife, Gloria Pink, inherited the stand near the corner of Melrose Avenue and La Brea Boulevard in Hollywood from Richard and Beverly’s parents. Richard Pink, a real estate lawyer for ING Real Estate, holds the title of president. His wife oversees operations and promotions. The family took the business from a humble pushcart in a weed-choked lot to a Hollywood landmark.
The eatery seats a maximum of 80 people but serves as many as 2,500 hot dogs and nearly 170 pounds of chili a day. The wait time to order a meal ranges from a few minutes to two hours or more, depending on the time of day.
How did it all start? When Romanian immigrant Isadore Pinkowitz landed on Ellis Island in the early 1900s, immigration officials shortened and “Americanized” his name to Pink. Fast forward to the Great Depression. Isadore’s son, Paul Pink, and his wife, Betty, bought a pushcart for $50 and began a hot dog business on the corner of La Brea and Melrose. When the landlord raised the monthly rent from $15 to $25, the couple bought the land and, in 1946, built the eatery that sits on that same corner today.
How did Pink’s get the Hollywood crowd to line up for the dogs? Richard Pink, his wife and sister were sitting around a kitchen table in 1998 trying to devise ways to drum up publicity for the upcoming 60th anniversary. They decided to invite celebrities to work behind the counter, with all the profit going to charity.
“Anything in L.A. that is connected to Hollywood is very important,” Richard Pink said.
The family tried a dress rehearsal on the 59th anniversary. They got actors Jo Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi and Billy Dee Williams and honorary Hollywood Mayor Johnny Grant to sling the dogs.
For the 60th anniversary, the grill was worked by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, TV personalities Huell Howser and Tawny Little, actor Eric Estrada, former Laker Jamaal Wilkes and producer Aaron Spelling. The idea paid off big. Since then Pink’s has been featured on television shows such as “The Martha Stewart Show,” “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and Huell Howser’s “California Gold.”
Favorite Hollywood moment? Jay Leno filmed a skit for “The Tonight Show” in which the rock band Aerosmith played cooks at Pink’s.
“When you get exposed to 2 or 3 million people, you get a lot of curiosity going,” Richard Pink said.
Pink trivia: In the mid-1980s, actor Bruce Willis proposed to actress Demi Moore by the glow of Pink’s fluorescent lights.
What’s the secret to Pink’s success? Consistent quality is the first priority, Richard Pink said. The typical hot dogs are 9-inch, all-beef wieners with natural casing, made for Pink’s since 1939 by Hoff’s Quality Meats. The dogs are steamed and doused in a chili made specially for Pink’s. Richard Pink refuses to divulge the maker of the chili.
Value is the next priority, he said. The basic chili dog costs $3.10. The most expensive entree is the “Three Dog Night,” a sloppy beast with three dogs wrapped in a tortilla with cheese, bacon and chili, for $7.15. No charge for extra chili or onions.
Good service and atmosphere are also important, Pink said. Half of his employees have worked for Pink’s for at least 10 years. Pink’s offers 12 varieties of hamburgers and 21 types of hot dogs, including “The Martha Stewart Dog” (10-inch dog smothered in relish, onions, bacon, chopped tomatoes, sauerkraut and sour cream) and the “Rosie O’Donnell Long Island Dog” (a 10-inch topped with mustard, onions, chili and sauerkraut).
Why not franchise Pink’s? Richard Pink admits that the family is “averse to risk.” If they sought to open Pink’s hot dog stands across the country, he said, they would lose control of the quality and pricing.
“We’ve never trusted anyone to preserve it,” he said. “We believe we know the formula to make Pink’s hot dogs right.”
Still, the Pink family has allowed its hot dogs to be sold outside of the stand, on a limited basis. The family has accepted deals to operate booths at the Greek Theatre, Hollywood Park Casino and the Los Angeles County Fair. Pink’s hot dogs will be sold at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas in August and at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport in December.
The next big challenge? The family is now planning the 70th-anniversary celebration in November. The Pinks already have a commitment from comedian Bill Cosby and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to serve up some dogs, with more celebrities likely to sign up in the next few months.