AVONDALE — Joe Hehl had plenty of time to reflect on how close he came to being shut out of a hot dog as the legendary Hot Doug's served up its last encased meats Friday.
About 12 hours, to be exact.
"One red light and I wouldn't have made it," said Hehl, 22, of Lockport, who got in line at 6:45 Friday morning, entered Hot Doug's at 5 p.m. and placed the final order just after 6:30 Friday evening.
"The slightest variable could've changed everything today. I can't get over that," he said.
"I've never been so nervous to order food," he added.
Since owner Doug Sohn announced in May he was closing Hot Doug's, hungry crowds made a habit of lining up for hours to buy one of his famously creative dogs. As the final day drew closer, the lines got longer. One couple got married. The proprietors of a barbecue joint smoked a brisket while waiting.
All for Sohn's famous hot dogs.
So famous there's going to be a movie. Justin Breen explains:
Almost as soon as Hehl stepped in line Friday morning, Hot Doug's staffers put up a sign, signifying he was the last paying customer.
"I was here at 6:45 and the sign was here at 6:45... not a minute difference," Hehl said. "I was overwhelmed and pressured at the same time. I've witnessed a lot of heartbreak today."
Just minutes after Hehl arrived a couple, who had traveled from Florida for a hot dog were turned away. He said within the first hour at least 60 people were turned away including couples from Memphis and Indianapolis.
Hehl, dressed in a T-shirt, hoodie and jeans, endured rain and temperatures that dipped into the 50s. He said Hot Doug's staffers gave him coffee to stay warm.
Still, after 12 hours, he didn't know what he'd order once he stepped foot in the restaurant, which closed Friday after 13 years.
"I came here on a whim so I'll order on a whim," he said before finally reaching the counter for his order.
After Hehl ordered - he went with eight items, including three Chicago dogs, a bratwurst and a corndog - champagne was served to those remaining in the restaurant.
And there was one final customer: Hot Doug himself, who popularized the phrase "encased meats," and was a constant presence behind the counter.
Sohn bantered back and forth with Paul Kelly, for whom a bratwurst is named. They joked for nearly five minutes, recounting customers' frequently asked questions.
Sohn asked Kelly about nearly every dog listed on the wall next to the front counter, and Kelly repeatedly recommended the Paul Kelly, which is "soaked in beer — sort of like Paul Kelly," according to the description.
"Is the dog all beef?" Sohn asked facetiously before completing his order.
"Yeah, 14 years of that!" he said with a laugh.
Doug's final order: one char dog with everything, one Paul Kelly and regular fries.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: