Stray Dog Cafe offers a variety of dishes for breakfast and lunch
words and photos by Jessica Hill
In the heart of downtown Akron sits a cafe that has transformed over the years from a simple hot dog cart to a coffee shop and restaurant, as well as a mustard-making enterprise.
Stray Dog opened in 2009 as a hot dog cart, operated by Charly Murphy, and later moved into the space connected to the library last October.
“That’s kind of where we got the name,” Murphy, a North Hill native, recalls. “We just sold hot dogs and didn’t have a home base, so we became a stray dog. The name has stuck through the years now.”
Located on South Main Street, the Stray Dog Cafe blends in with the library. Lining the window sills are several plaques from the National Hamburger Festival that declare Stray Dog as the third-place winner for different burgers, like the title of Best Creative Burger in 2014. Tall, white letters painted on the glass spell out “Stray Dog” and “Making Akron more Akrony since 2009.”
Its long blue “Stray Dog Cafe” sign covers the bottom of the countertops that run half the length of the restaurant. High ceilings with exposed black pipes complement the location with its modern feel. Behind the counter, various menus show the wide range of dishes a customer can enjoy.
Its menu consists of drinks, breakfast sandwiches, wraps, flatbreads, burgers, and of course, hot dogs. Murphy’s favorite dogs include the grilled cheese dog and the Big Irish Weiner, a hot dog topped with corned beef, sauerkraut and honey mustard. The cafe’s coffee is roasted by Berardi’s in North Royalton.
Stray Dog is not Murphy’s first try in the restaurant business. He previously owned the Urbean Cafe at the Metro Transit Center on South Broadway Street. Because it did not get a lot of foot traffic, Murphy decided he wanted to buy a hot dog cart as a hobby and roam the streets of Akron.
“People talk about supporting local, and we’re as local as it gets here,” Murphy says. “We’re employing people that are local and we’re sourcing things that are local and we’re supporting the local economy.”
Murphy’s desire to help support people goes back to his original occupation. Before opening up his own businesses, he worked in ministry.
“My passion when I was in ministry was helping people in need, and the conclusion I came to is that for me, helping them find employment was much more fulfilling than any other aspect of the job,” Murphy says.
Murphy had his eye on the spot next to the library for a long time. Murphy and Alicia Kennedy, his business partner, were competing with a couple other businesses for the spot before the library’s board of directors picked them.
“(Murphy) always thought it would be a great place to be able to create and meet people and make food and make a little bit of money,” Kennedy says. She has been partners with him since the beginning of Stray Dog. They had met as neighbors when she was pregnant at the same time as his wife and became friends.
If operating a hot dog cart as well running a cafe wasn’t enough to take on, Stray Dog also sells its own mustard. They have sold more than a thousand bottles of mustard and have been named the official condiment of Lock 3 Park.
It’s no wonder the mustard and the hot dogs are best sellers. The beef hot dogs are cut in half and grilled to a crisp, and are bursting full of flavor and juiciness. The grilled cheese dog is a dog folded between a grilled cheese sandwich. A dog overflowing with macaroni noodles and topped with shredded cheese is the mac n’ cheese dog.
If you visit the cafe to grab a bite, be sure to add some of their homemade mustard. You won’t be disappointed.