Zombie Dogz scored some sweet state and national recognition along the way while helping to jump-start the Dayton-area food-truck scene, winning the “Best Food Truck in Ohio” designation in Ohio Magazine’s 2016 Best of Ohio Readers’ Ballot and finishing second in Mobile Cuisine’s 2016 Hot Dog Vendor of the Year national poll.
Today, Zombie Dogz owners David and Lee VanArtsdalen are focusing their efforts on their restaurant on Brown Street near the entrance to the University of Dayton, which opened in November 2016. The first local food-truck owners to make the transition to bricks-and-mortar, the VanArtsdalens oversee a bustling restaurant with a cult-like (well, zombie-like) following that is closing in on 40,000 Facebook fans.
And they are our Daytonians of the Week.
• What’s your typical day?
We wake up around 5 or 6 a.m. Get our two sons ready for the day. Take them to school. Then we go to the restaurant until about 4 or 5 p.m. Go and pick up the boys from school. Go home, have dinner and spend time as a family.
• What prompted you to get into the food truck, and then restaurant, business?
The truck came about from a discussion we had while cooking hot dogs around a fire one night. The idea wouldn’t leave our heads. We kept discussing all the fun things we could do. My wife built the business while in school. Then one day we bought the truck and hit the ground running.
The restaurant just seemed the like the next step in the whole process. Most people who start off in a food truck do so in hopes of turning it into a brick and mortar location some day. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do that. So we did so while we could.
• What has been the biggest challenge in opening and sustaining your restaurant, and how did you overcome that challenge?
The whole process of starting the restaurant was pretty brutal. It took twice as long and cost twice as much than we originally anticipated. When we were about to open it finally our youngest son, who was 2 weeks old at the time, was admitted to the NICU at Dayton Children’s. He was there for three weeks. When we finally got it open, we were so used to being a small mobile unit that trying to go to a bigger operating restaurant was a very large learning process — one that we still deal with daily. We keep trying to better the business and ourselves.
RELATED: Zombie Dogz announces new hours, menu update (January 2017)
• What can we look forward to at Zombie Dogz in 2018?
We have a lot of new hot dog creations in the works. We will be releasing them throughout the year. While still mixing in our staple dogs and bringing back old favorites. And you never know what might rise from the grave … .
• What do you love about life in the Dayton area?
Dayton truly is making a comeback. It’s great to see small businesses striving in the community. We also get to enjoy all the beautiful parks in the area. All while enjoying all the great food, art and history that the city has to offer.
• If you could change or bring one thing to Dayton, what would it be?
In a perfect world, I’d love to get rid of the drug problem in the area. Too many people are losing loved ones. It’s a real issue and I hope we can get it under control.
• What’s your favorite restaurant to go to that’s not Zombie Dogz?
That’s a very tough question. We love Blueberry Cafe for breakfast. Places like Geez Grill & Pub and Tank’s Bar & Grill for lunch and Coco’s Bistro for dinner.