The Untold Truth Of Pink's Hot Dogs

A few years back, the late Aretha Franklin threw a Christmas party in her Detroit mansion. Insisting her guests only enjoy the finest food, she served one of her favorites, hot dogs that she had flown in from a small stand in Los Angeles. These weren't just any garden-variety grocery store hot dogs, mind you, but came from Pink's Hot Dogs, a Hollywood institution since 1939.

The Queen of Soul was far from the only celebrity enamored with these world-famous wieners; as TMZ recalled, stars ranging from Kim Kardashian to Betty White have professed their love of the iconic L.A. hot dog stand, where it's not uncommon to see lines stretching around the block as hungry aficionados await chomping into one (but usually more) of their legendary chili dogs.

More than eight decades since serving its first hot dog, Pink's remains an enduring Hollywood institution with a history that is as long as those down-the-block lines. From serious foodies to junk-food junkies, Pink's has carved out a special place in the hearts — and stomachs — of Angelenos and visitors alike. To find out even more about this historic eatery, read on to discover the untold truth of Pink's Hot Dogs. 

Pink's Hot Dogs began with a $50 roll cart

The history of Pink's Hot Dogs dates back to 1939, notes the eatery's website, when unemployed couple Paul and Betty Pink became frustrated they couldn't find work. "Since nobody could give them a job, they decided to go into the hot dog business and become entrepreneurs," their son, Richard Pink, told Discover Hollywood. 

After paying $50 for a roll cart they saw in a local newspaper's classified ads, the couple started selling hot dogs on the corner of La Brea and Melrose, renting the piece of land for $15 a month. In 1941, the landlord demanded a hefty rent increase, to $25 a month. Rather than agree, the Pinks instead got a bank loan for $4,000 and purchased the land outright. 

In those early days, noted Richard Pink, they were "lucky to sell 50 to 100 hot dogs a day." But as the neighborhood developed around them, the business grew, eventually becoming a local landmark.

A Hollywood icon set a record for eating the most Pink's hot dogs in a single sitting

Given its prime Hollywood location and proximity to studios, Pink's Hot Dogs has long been a destination for celebrities. One of these stars, in fact, is reported to have set a Pink's record: Orson Welles.

The actor-director behind Citizen Kane was renowned for once scarfing down 18 Pink's chili dogs in a single sitting, a tale that's become both legendary and apocryphal. Pink's owner Richard Pink, however, insists it really happened. "We have had challengers who have called to break Orson Welles' record," Pink told The Daily Meal. "I have discouraged them because we would like the record to go unchallenged because Orson Welles is a legend, and we are known as the place he consumed 18 hots dogs at one sitting." 

Unlike the annual eating contest hosted by East Coast competitor Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs, Pink says his establishment has no intention of encouraging anyone to surpass Welles' historic feat of gluttony. "We are not interested in setting up a hot dog contest to beat Orson's record," Pink added. "First of all, we encourage moderation, and secondly, we would still boast about Orson Welles frequently dining at Pink's."

Pink's Hot Dogs sells between 1,500 and 2,000 dogs a day

While the original Pink's hot dog cart may have sold less than 100 dogs a day, that's definitely no longer the case. "Now we sell 1,500 to 2,000 hot dogs a day," declared owner Richard Pink in an interview with Discover Hollywood. In fact, he admitted he's been responsible for consuming a healthy portion of that volume. "I've eaten so many hot dogs over the years, my skin has turned to natural casing," he joked.

Thrillist crunched the numbers on what that actually means according to weight, estimating each year Pink's doles out "53,340 pounds of hot dogs, 46,800 pounds of chili, 51,480 pounds of Polish sausage, 128,700 pounds of fries, 25,025 pounds of bacon, 14,870 pounds of burgers, and 34,320 pounds of sauerkraut." In addition, Pink's also sells 129,800 tortillas annually.

While attempting to conjure up a mental image of what that would look like in a great big pile, consider that the Pink family is fond of saying, according to the company's website, "We are the little hot dog stand that could."

Lots of celebrities have Pink's dogs named after them

Orson Welles isn't the only celebrity who's frequented Pink's Hot Dogs. In fact, the place gathered such a reputation as a celeb haunt that wannabe actors have been known to hang out there in hopes of being noticed. "They heard we had producers and directors who were coming, so they'd tack their photos on the wall in the hope they'd get discovered," Richard Pink told Discover Hollywood. Struggling young Canadian actor Michael J. Fox considered Pink's to be "his office," and supposedly received the call hiring him for his breakthrough role in Family Ties while loitering there.

So many stars began coming in that Pink's began creating customized dogs named after celebrities. These include (via Los Angeles Magazine) the Marlon Brando (chili, mustard, onions) and the Giada de Laurentiis (peppers, onions, mozzarella), along with the James Corden dog, which the Late Late Show host invented while covering a shift at Pink's 

Pink's even honored Aretha Franklin with a dog named in her honor, just the way she used to like it: Polish sausage with chili, mustard, and onions. Now that is a hot dog that deserves some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

The Pink's Hot Dogs chili recipe remains top secret

As anyone who's ever waited on line at the corner of Melrose and La Brea can attest, Pink's Hot Dogs are taken to the next level by one thing: the Pink's chili. That Chili recipe goes back a long way, and the recipe remains a trade secret on par with McDonald's special Big Mac sauce and Colonel Sanders' mysterious blend of 11 herbs and spices.

According to Pink's owner Richard Pink, it's still a secret. "Chili has to have the right blend of sweetness and spice. It needs to be relatively smooth, but still have enough texture to make it stand up to hot dogs and hamburgers. We are famous for the flavors in our chili." For those who really — really — love the chili, Los Angeles Business Journal pointed out that anyone with the inclination (and the iron stomach) can attempt the 10-inch "stretch" chili dog ... you can apologize to your arteries later.

According to a 1999 New York Times feature on Pink's, famed food critic Ruth Reichl admitted she once went dumpster diving outside Pink's in hopes of finding out what was in their chili. "They have great hot dogs," she explained.

Martha Stewart created her own special Pink's dog

Among the many, many celebrities to have a Pink's Hot Dogs dog named after them is Martha Stewart. Yes, Martha Stewart eats hot dogs, and has enjoyed the chili-topped sensation that is a Pink's dog.

Of course, given that she's Martha freakin' Stewart, she created her very own signature version of a Pink's dog, with a few Martha-style twists. "After a long day with no dinner, sometimes I have to stop and get a hot dog," the legendary domestic diva told Bon Apetit. According to the Pink's menu, the Martha Stewart dog consists of relish, onions, bacon, chopped tomatoes, and sauerkraut, with a drizzle of sour cream as the coupe de grace. In Martha's world, mustard and ketchup are officially banished from her creation!

So is the Martha dog worth trying? Just ask Pink's owner Richard Pink, who told The Daily Meal that out of all the legendary Pink's dogs at his stomach's disposal, it was his absolute favorite. That's a good thing.

Pink's Hot Dogs expanded to the Philippines — and a hidden speakeasy

The success of the original Pink's Hot Dogs in Hollywood led to expansion, including Pink's locations in San Diego, Las Vegas, California's Knott's Berry Farm and even one in an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. In 2016, the famed hot dog eatery went global, with a Pink's opening up in Manila, capital of the Philippines. While the owner of the Manila Pink's told LAist; his version was not going to be an exact replica, he insisted there was a market for the famed dogs now that the Manila food scene had evolved to the point that the city's foodies "know everything that's going on in the world, and they want it more than anyone."

There was, however, one huge difference between the original and its Manila counterpart: the latter was actually a front for a luxurious speakeasy. As CNN reported, a "discreet backdoor" in Pink's leads to Hotel Bar, described as "one of Manila's best (and most elusive) speakeasies." As a bonus, while customers enjoy their craft cocktails in a posh setting, they can also order snacks from the Pink's menu. Talk about enjoying the best of both worlds!

A legendary TV producer practically lived on Pink's hot dogs

TV producer Aaron Spelling was among the many hardcore fans of Pink's Hot Dogs, and did not keep that fandom to himself. The legendary creator of TV hits ranging from Charlie's Angels to Beverly Hills, 90210 (in which he cast daughter Tori Spelling), Spelling was a frequent customer. ”I don't like them too much,” joked Spelling in a 1999 profile on Pink's for The New York Times. ”We only order them three times a week.”

He wasn't exaggerating. In a 2015 oral history about Spelling's career, Spelling secretary-turned-executive Renate Kamer told The Hollywood Reporter that Pink's was his go-to meal whenever he wasn't having a lunch meeting. "If he wasn't having someone for lunch he'd send the driver to get him Pink's hot dogs," she said. 

As for why health-conscious Hollywood was so besotted by the proudly unhealthy chili dogs, Pink's owner Richard Pink offered his theory to the Times. ”If you're going to splurge, you're going to splurge at a place that really tastes good,” he explained. ”There's got to be a place to balance out the tendency to chase low fat, low carb. You've got to splurge where the calories count.”

Pink's Hot Dogs celebrated its 80th anniversary with a cavalcade of stars

In 2019, Pink's marked its 80th anniversary and enlisted a gaggle of celebrities to assist in the celebrations. According to a press release, the Melrose-and-La Brea location was offering a special 80th-birthday deal, offering its famous chili dogs for just 80 cents each, with all proceeds raised going to charity.

The event kickoff was hosted by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Philharmonic music and artistic director Gustavo Dudamel, who were on hand to greet the throngs of customers who turned up. "I'm a big fan of these hot dogs and I eat all the time, so what a great way to have fun and do this thing for charity," said Dudamel in an interview with Los Angeles' ABC 7 Eyewitness News.

Other celebs who joined the festivities included teen pop phenom JoJo Siwa (pictured), comedian George Lopez, Los Angeles Dodgers star Justin Turner and that year's Pasadena Rose Queen.

Pink's Hot Dogs is still owned by the same family that started it

As earlier stated, Paul and Betty Pink started Pink's Hot Dogs in 1939 with a $50 push cart and a great big dream. More than eight decades later, Pink's is still in the family, with siblings Richard Pink and Beverly Pink-Wolfe having inherited the business from their parents. 

While numerous similar family-owned businesses wound up selling out to large corporations — such as iconic steakhouse Ruth's Chris — after becoming successful, the Pinks have hung on to the company that has sustained them both financially and gastronomically for their entire lives. 

Asked in an interview to share his theory on the secret to Pink's success, Richard had an instant answer. "The secret's the snap of the hot dog," he declared. "It snaps when you bite into it, and it's good and juicy." The other secret, he added, is the chili: "The chili is our own recipe, and it's fabulous, and it's addicting."

A designer held a fashion show in the Pink's Hot Dogs parking lot

In addition to being a Los Angeles landmark that sells thousands upon thousands of hot dogs each week, Pink's Hot Dogs is also popular as an event venue that has partnered with various companies for promotional campaigns. One of these, for example, saw Pink's partnering with Amazon Prime Video to promote its hit series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as one of the businesses that participated in 2019's "Mrs. Maisel Day," selling hot dogs for a special one-day-only price of 59 cents each.

Amazingly enough, Pink's has also been the site of a bona fide fashion show. As the Los Angeles Times reported, in February 2020 the M Missoni fashion label held a show at Pink's, showcasing its fall and winter collection for 2020. Why Pink's? According to creative director Margherita Maccapani Missoni, she saw Pink's as representing "the B side of Hollywood — not necessarily the cool side." She didn't mean that as a dig, however, and explained that was also how she envisioned M Missoni, a less-expensive sub-brand of the Missoni label that her grandparents founded decades earlier.

The baseball-related reason Pink's Hot Dogs changed its color to blue

Try not to be shocked, but there's one very obvious color that has always been associated with the Pink's Hot Dogs brand. Yet there were a few times when Pink's had forsaken its customary pink for another color: blue.

This, explained a report from ABC 7 Action News, was because of a special promotion that Pink's had cooked up with the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose team color is blue. When the Dodgers made it into the World Series in 2017, Pink's covered its distinctive pink signage with one of "Dodger Blue." When the team likewise made the series the next year, Pink's followed suit. When the Dodgers made it into the series again in 2020, Pink's once again showed is support by turning blue.


Pinks Hot Dogs staged a grand reopening after a pandemic shutdown

Like most restaurants, Pink's Hot Dogs was forced to shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. This marked the first time in the business's eight-decade history that Angelenos suddenly found themselves without their beloved chili dogs.

After five months, Pink's announced it was reopening — albeit with some new safety protocols in place to ensure its customers stayed healthy and virus-free. According to Los Angeles Magazine, Pink's enlisted the services of an environmental firm that gave the entire place a massive deep clean and outfitted Pink's with enough social-distancing alterations that the venerable hot dog stand was able to reopen, and bring back at least some of its employees. 

Perhaps the biggest difference that customers noticed — in addition to lines stretching even further due to customers standing six feet apart from each other — was that orders were taken from behind a see-through plastic window. "So it'll be the original Pink's experience," owner Richard Pink told the magazine. "Except with Plexiglass."