There have been whispers — David Haynes has heard the gossip from friends — that he’s restaurant cheating. It’s been about five years since he and wife and business partner Catherine Jacobus opened the doors of a thin-crust pizza joint on the corner of Elm and Good Latimer, and they’re embracing ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with pizza.
He made waves with an all-you-can-eat buffet that makes CiCi’s look like the meal of a sad birthday clown, and recently he launched a completely “virtual” restaurant, a restaurant-within-a-restaurant that delivers only through apps. His first foray into virtual restaurants was a mac and cheese pop-up that operates inside Stonedeck’s own pizza parlor. The Nacho Libre mac and cheese, for example, is a full pound of macaroni and cheese topped with molten queso, and it can be delivered straight to your door.
Now, facing the deluge of changes in the neighborhood, he’s trying to figure out how he’s going to get millennials to do the unthinkable: show up to his restaurant, in person, and order pizza. The answer, he says, is simple: He isn’t. Rather than doubling down on people dining in, he’s adding more virtual pop-ups, and this time it’s hot dogs.
Now firing out of his Stonedeck Pizza kitchen, in the twinkling nighttime, are all-beef franks topped with meatballs, Parmesan and peppers or chicken tikka masala and pickled onions. For around $16, you can get three all-beef hot dogs in a New England bun, the kind you stuff with buttery lobster, cascading with mac and cheese, banana peppers and drizzles of ranch dressing and ketchup. He’s sending out some sides, too: The mustard-driven potato salad and baked beans that he and his wife have been serving their own millennial kids. The hot dogs deliver late, as they should in these uncertain times.
“It’s the smartest way to utilize brick-and-mortar in this age where brick-and-mortar struggles,” he says of a restaurant that needs no walls. “This is not going away. It’s more than a trend. It’s a shift.”
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Dallas has a tenuous relationship with hot dog joints. We’ve lost some gems, the real Chicago kind that serve the gem-green relish and the nubs of peppers. Wild About Harry’s, Dallas' long-standing custard and hot dog spot, was hanging by a thread, and then it was back. Haynes is willing to take the risk because the industry, he says, is shedding servers and adding fulfillment centers.
Haynes turns 50 this year. His first job was at a tiny restaurant in Keller. Is it cheating to try anything and everything to make his little pizza joint survive? To Haynes, it’s bigger than whether or not Dallas embraces hot dogs. It’s about facing the harsh winds. It’s adapt or die, and he’s the Billy Bean of Deep Ellum.
So far, so good: A pack of all-American dogs, stuffed with diced onions, sweet pickle relish and smoky sauerkraut in lobster rolls are just plain great delivery food. The potato salad is bright, creamy. The dogs crackle-snap, releasing juices. Mustard blunts the salty beef, and pickle relish cools like the breeze at a ballpark. Dallas has been missing this, ”cheating” or not.