By Suzette Smith
Michael Manning has a dream. It’s to one day serve hot dogs out the back of an old hearse.
He’s halfway there. In its finished form, when you visit Death Dog Hot Dog, a casket rolls out of the hearse to reveal bratwursts and sausages in boiling purgatory, ready for toppings and sesame buns.
Time, money and COVID-19 have so far kept Manning from fully realizing the business—but at least he’s already got the hearse. It’s possible you’ve seen it driving down Burnside or around Salem, where Manning, 47, currently resides. It’s easy to identify: It’s the hearse with a 6-foot-long hot dog affixed to the top.
The vision for Death Dog came to Manning 12 years ago in Richmond, Va., at GWARbar—yes, a bar owned by the shock-rock metal band Gwar—when he ordered a Turd Dunkin: a housemade turkey duck confit sausage.
“If they’re willing to have that on their menu,” he says, “and I’m willing to order it because of the absurdity of it, I realized I should go ahead with my food cart idea.”
The Death Dog name comes from a big box store where Manning works. The store sells hot dogs for an extremely cheap price, and over time staff started calling them “death dogs.” The concept of a grimly themed hot dog food cart swiftly followed.
At the moment, Manning is raising startup cash with a series of black Death Dog shirts—the logo was designed by Norwegian horror film director Per-Ingvar Tomren—and other branded merchandise. Hearse sightings on Instagram and cool shirts are all Death Dog has on the menu right now. But it’s enough to keep Manning going.
“One of my shirts was worn by a friend who owns a vegan hot dog place in Kansas.” Manning says. “A customer came up and said, ‘I just moved here from Oregon and I recognize that car!’”