It was the Fourth of July, 2011, when the concept for The Dog Shack was hatched, Nicholas Spinziani says. After what he calls a few too many drinks, he and his brother-in-law, Bill Campbell, decided to open a hot dog place on the Ocean City Boardwalk.
Campbell had been working in real estate. Spinziani had the culinary experience, working in the restaurant industry since he was 15 years old, although mostly in high-end restaurants.
"I wanted to do something that was my speed," Spinziani says.
That translated to a more casual, fast-food type of thing.
"We had been talking about it for years," Spinziani says.
They just never got around to actually doing it.
Spinziani's mom, who has a house in Ocean City, found the empty space on the Boardwalk.
"The rest is history," Spinziani says.
It may sound simple but that was when the hard work began.
"Most of the dogs on the menu are stuff that we came up with, either me or Bill," Spinziani says.
Some of the combinations of hot dog and condiment are prepared in the classic style.
Some are done their way. Many were created in the year before they opened, testing combinations on their friends and family, before coming up with the perfect ingredients to go with their perfect dogs.
They also visited many of the traditional hot dog places that were doing the kinds of things they wanted to recreate, tasting and critiquing as they went.
It was hard work, but somebody had to do it. The Ocean City Boardwalk lacked a really good hot dog joint.
The classic hot dog from Chicago - and one of their most popular dogs - is the eponymous Chicago Dog ($4.75), topped with neon green relish, tomatoes, celery salt, pickles and sports peppers, a regional condiment of tiny, pickled green peppers that Spinziani buys directly from a Chicago purveyor.
Chicagoans would expect nothing less on their hot dogs.
For the hot dog purist, the Naked Dog ($3.75) is the way to go, with a plain hot dog simply served on a fresh Liscio's bun. From there, any combination of toppings is fair game.
The Philly Dog ($5.25) is one of the most expensive, topped with Cheese Whiz, onions and Shack homemade chili. The Boston Dog ($4.75) features their house-made Samuel Adams sauerkraut and house-made baked beans.
The California dog ($5.25) has bacon, avocado, tomato and chipotle mayonnaise. The Texas Dog ($4.75) has chili, spicy mustard and onion.
The Dare Devil ($4.75) comes with a "double dog dare," loaded with cheddar, sports peppers, jalapeno peppers, chipotle powder and harrissa hot sauce. They are spicier than the average hot dog.
The Old Philly Dog ($4.75) is almost boring by comparison. It is simply dressed with pepper hash, dill pickle and yellow mustard.
A Classic Corn Dog on a stick ($3.75) with a honey batter rounds out the hot dog menu.
Kids have a special meal all their own with a hot dog, applesauce and a 100 percent juice drink for $7.50.
The Dog Shack also serves burgers, made from 100 percent certified Angus beef - fresh never frozen - handmade and hand-shaped. The burgers are cooked to whatever temperature the customer prefers.
"We cook them to order, so they are hot, fresh and delicious," Spinziani says.
The list of toppings seems endless: fried onions, BBQ onions, fresh jalapenos, banana peppers, pepper hash, Cheese Whiz, beer cheese, American cheese, sauerkraut, pineapple relish, fresh spicy corn relish, cucumber yogurt sauce, chili, applewood-smoked bacon, cole slaw and avocado.
Chicken burgers are made from freshly ground breast meat daily and can be personalized with any of the above toppings.
"Everyone who works at the Surf Mall gets those," Spinziani says.
An unusual option is the vegetarian delight ($6), which is a falafel burger or chickpea patty, served with lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber yogurt sauce and harrissa hot sauce. They are made from whole-dried chickpeas that are soaked overnight, ground with fresh onion, garlic, cumin and cayenne, then shaped like a burger and served on a bun to keep the sandwich in line with their concept.
Not listed on the menu is a shrimp Po' Boy ($7.50) made with cornmeal-crusted shrimp and a creole remoulade sauce.
"We do a lot of things in-house," Spinziani says.
The house-made, pub-style potato chips are cut and cooked at The Dog Shack. The chips are served with many different kinds of seasoning including BBQ, malt vinegar, salt and pepper, cheddar cheese, bacon or Shack chili.
"We make our own pickles and sauerkraut," Spinziani says, an unusual touch for any restaurant.
Spinziani also makes a spicy Jersey corn relish, using fresh, local white corn.
The pineapple salsa for the Hawaiian dog ($4.75) is homemade and so is the cole slaw.
At The Dog Shack, pina coladas ($4.50) are made with fresh pineapple, coconut milk and Coco Lopez and are non-alcoholic.
The Dog Shack does not have seating, but it doesn't get much better than sitting on the beach or boardwalk with your favorite dog.
"Our hot dogs are simply the best in Ocean City," Spinziani says.