There’s nothing more American than a classic hot dog with zigzags of mustard and ketchup. But, in a time when diners are becoming more conscious about what they’re putting into their bodies, franks are losing their luster.
“Every time we ask someone why they don’t eat hot dogs, they say, ‘Because I don’t know what’s in them,’” says LaShauna Jones, owner of local hot dog pop-up The Sporty Dog. “We started thinking a lot about how to remove that. We want people to know exactly what’s in them.”
In an effort to combat the hot dog stigma, Jones—along with her 25-year-old daughter, Daejonne Bennett—started their health-conscious food pop-up in the spring of 2017. The Sporty Dog uses all-natural, locally sourced products, including beef from Liberty Delight Farms in Reisterstown, to create unique franks topped with everything from strawberries and arugula to pineapple and caramelized onions.
“Yes, we put fruit on a hot dog—that’s just my brain being over the top,” Jones says. “No one would imagine that strawberries would pair so well with beef, but it’s ridiculously good.”
Jones previously worked as a government contractor for more than 20 years. When her contract came to an end in 2017, she decided to make the leap to start the business with her daughter, who had been pursuing a career in the culinary world.
“I was like, ‘Let’s do hot dogs, that’s gotta be easy, right?’ Jones says with a laugh. “Sometimes I’m a little more ambitious than I need to be.”
But the duo’s ambition turned out to be well worth it. They began selling their creations at the Greenmount West farmers’ market last season—where The Sporty Dog quickly became an anchor—and have been popping up at various community events around town ever since.
“A lot of people who aren’t from Baltimore don’t realize how socially engaging we are as a community,” Jones says. “We love social outings, grabbing a beer, and spending time with folks. We’ve evolved from people sitting on their stoops and conversing with neighbors to now having these very crafty community events. It’s a great way to bring the city together around food.”
Aside from the “Strawberry Delight” with feta and arugula, menu highlights include the “Pineapple Express” with grilled carrots and B’More Saucy Bayside Pepper sauce, and the “Ravens Dog” topped with a red cabbage curry slaw—an ode to the duo’s passion for sports and the concept’s name.
Another draw for customers has been the vegan dogs, which Jones and Bennett hand-form using white beans, blue potatoes, gluten, and signature spices. They then steam the cylinders and top them with fruits and vegetables from area farms, which diners are able to customize themselves.
“It gives people a chance to go somewhere beyond their boundaries,” Jones says. “People are open to trying pineapple on a hot dog, and that just shows you how bold a city like Baltimore can be.”
Jones is looking forward to expanding the concept by applying to more farmers’ markets, collaborating with local breweries (“Beer and a hot dog is such a no-brainer”), and, hopefully, opening a brick-and-mortar space in 2019. She is also eager to further explore the healthy side of the local food industry, starting with a pop-up at the In Good Health Wellness Expo in Harbor East on Saturday, November 17.
“Just from being in this industry, I’m learning how much people love their food,” she says. “Some might not think it’s a big deal in Baltimore, but healthy food is a big deal here.”