The scaffolding going up on Jefferson Street marks the near complete construction of yet another year of Festival International. Sadly, it will be the 31st consecutive Festival year without Dat Dog, the NOLA almost-gourmet frankfurtery that’s teased Downtown with modest progress on its renovation of the old Times of Acadiana offices at 201 Jefferson Street.
Unlike last year, Dat Dog will not return its food truck to further flirt with Lafayette diners during Festival, a concession to Dat Dog’s overmatched manpower, stretched to accommodate rapid franchise growth, as well as truck-side service at Jazz Fest.
“What I need is a second truck,” laughs Bill DiPaola, Dat Dog’s chief operating officer.
Since purchasing the corner building, across the street from Rêve Coffee Roasters, hungry eyes have trained on the construction project as it’s picked up steam. Laborers layered an aluminum awning on top of the old aquamarine overhang that jutted out of the building for years, while painters have applied coats of Dat Dog’s signature power-clashing color palette.
The overhaul has reportedly taken some twists as contractors peeled back the building’s generational layers of previous renovations. Last year, DiPaola told The IND that the floor plan changed to accommodate a mezzanine level not previously accounted for.
On this most recent delay, DiPaola says the trouble is an overloaded plate. Indeed, Dat Dog is about to explode about the South like an over-nuked wiener. A franchisee in Houston, a former National Restaurant Association chair, is planning 25 Dat Dogs, while a Baton Rouge owner is planning three. Should the Lafayette location open by summer, and before the 28 other locations currently in the works, Lafayette would still be the company’s first official foray outside of New Orleans, where its three operating locations have generated a rabid following.
“We’re quite simple as a concept,” says DiPaolo of Dat Dog’s expansions. “Simple translates into very effective.” There are currently only three fully operational Dat Dogs, the original three in New Orleans.
Once complete, Dat Dog Lafayette will hold down the north corner of Downtown, greeting entrants from the I-49 Connector as the family-friendly, business end of Lafayette’s prime cultural district. Holding the other end of the Jefferson Street line will be Rock n' Bowl, another family-oriented Big Easy export slated to open Downtown in the coming months, pending its own ambitious construction plans.
Justifiably, Dat Dog’s impending arrival has stoked some optimism for a Downtown restaurant and cultural scene that’s struggled to deliver daytime and early-evening attractions between Art Walks and Downtown Alives. Dat Dog has a reputation for anchoring redevelopment (or gentrification, depending on your point of view) of economically distressed neighborhood blocks in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Dat Dog officials say they hope to open this summer. This is the second reported delay since Dat Dog bought into Lafayette in January 2016.