It's Your Business: Hot dog restaurant makes it to hall of fame

It took Jay Feiz 26 years, but his Wonderdogs restaurant in Champaign's Campustown has finally been named to the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame.

It's no small accomplishment.

The honor is given to longtime independent hot dog shops that serve the Vienna Beef brand. All have been in business at least 20 years and some as long as 50 years.

Many are classics in their communities, and some sport names like Tasty Dog, Maury's Red Hots or Mustard's Last Stand.

If you're considering a tour of classic hot dog stands, you can get ideas for stops by visiting http://www.viennabeef.com and clicking "Hall of Fame" under the "Hot Dog Culture" tab.

At a ceremony last week, Feiz received a plaque and banner from Vienna Beef, as well as a book, "Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog," written by Bob Schwartz, the Hall of Fame's founder.

Feiz came to the United States from his home country, Iran, in 1973 and studied textile engineering at the Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science.

He then got a master's degree in industrial engineering from Rutgers University and worked for Burlington Industries in Monticello, Ark., for six years.

But he tired of the work and decided to travel. After spending about six months overseas, he came to Champaign-Urbana, where his niece lived.

Wonderdogs — at that time located on South Sixth Street — was for sale, and Feiz bought it in 1986.

"I just wanted to do something on my own, and I liked Vienna Beef hot dogs," he said.

In 1990, the restaurant had to move when Busey Bank expanded at Sixth and Green streets.

Wonderdogs relocated to another building not far away, but in time, Feiz had to vacate that building due to improvements along Boneyard Creek.

He eventually found space at 605 S. Wright St., C, and remodeled it for Wonderdogs, opening up again in February 2000.

Most of his patrons, Feiz said, are students, faculty and staff from the University of Illinois, and the restaurant attracts a good number of folks who hail from the Chicago area.

The Vienna Beef hot dog is Wonderdogs' most popular item, Feiz said.

But he also serves Chicago-style hot dogs, chili-and-cheese dogs, cheese dogs, Polish sausage, Italian beef, hamburgers and fries, among other things.

Hours for the store are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays.

Aerogro opens in Champaign

Spring has sprung.

And if your thoughts have turned to hydroponic or indoor gardening, a new store in Champaign may interest you.

Aerogro opened last week at the Shoppes of Knollwood in the space between Le Peep and the Social Butterfly Boutique.

Aerogro sells hydroponic and indoor gardening supplies. According to owner Nate Gura, that includes organic soils, organic fertilizers, hydroponic systems and hydroponic fertilizers.

Gura, who moved to Bloomington after a decade or so in Chicago, said hydroponic and indoor gardening are "really big" in the Chicago area.

But he knew of no specialty stores catering to that market in central Illinois.

"Your local nurseries might have a little outdoor fertilizer here and there," he said. But it's hard to find parts for hydroponic systems, even at bigger stores, he added.

So Gura opened Aerogro stores in Bloomington and East Peoria a couple years ago and is now bringing the concept to Champaign.

Hours of the store, at 2213 S. Neil St., are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

The store's phone number is 355-4015, and its website is aerogroonline.com.

Ice cream in Gifford, Villa Grove

Lenny's Ice Cream Gallery opened March 31 in Gifford, and co-owner Mary Sutherlin figures at least 300 people turned out on opening day.

The shop, at 308 S. Main St., offers 12 flavors of hand-dipped ice cream from Cayuga, Ind.-based Wright Ice Cream Co., as well as vanilla and chocolate soft-serve, which are dairy-free and lactose-free.

The list of ice cream concoctions includes sundaes, floats, malts, shakes and banana splits.

Sutherlin said the shop also serves Frosty Paws, a frozen treat for dogs that's put out by Purina.

Lenny's also sells cookies, candy bars, soda, chips and fruit smoothies, she said.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.

Meanwhile, in Villa Grove, Cassandra and Rory Gunter have acquired the former Pop's Ice Cream stand at 20 S. Main St. and plan to open The Scoop of Villa Grove there later this month.

Cassandra Gunter said she plans to serve the same kind of ice cream as before — and add a number of sandwiches, including Chicago-style hot dogs.

She also hopes to add a smoker and offer pulled pork and ribs on weekends.

Hours are expected to be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Unlike Pop's, The Scoop is expected to be open year-round.

Gunter said her background is in real estate and her husband is an electrical engineer at the Clinton nuclear plant.

Deena Reed, who worked at Pop's, is expected to be a full-time employee at The Scoop, Gunter said.

The business plans to continue operating a nine-hole miniature golf course there — and will also offer a party room.

Coming Monday ...

Look for a new eye care shop to open inside the Meijer store at 2500 S. Philo Road, U.

A ribbon-cutting was scheduled at 1 p.m. Monday for The Optical Shop.

Are you opening a new business or changing an existing one? Contact Don Dodson at 351-5227 or 800-252-3346; by email at dodson@news-gazette.com; or by regular mail at The News-Gazette, c/o It's Your Business column, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.

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ddf1972 wrote on April 12, 2012 at 8:04 am

Nice story about Wonderdogs...went here for many years when in town, and the owner is a very nice guy putting out a good product.