Chris Rice has been tending bar in Seattle since 1994--the last five for Ethan Stowell, mainly at Tavolata. Currently, you can find him working behind the bar at Rione XIII, where he was visibly absent over the summer, tending to his other love: Summer Dog.
Hot dogs, bikinis and boating = Summer Dog.
Equal parts floating hot-dog stand and bucket list accomplishment, Rice launched Summer Dog in August with his girlfriend Emma Schwartzman, another Stowell alum. The two are officially docked for now, but plan to be back in the water next Spring selling their signature $6 dogs to boaters on Lakes Washington and Union.
With his sea legs firmly on dry land, Rice shares with us why boating keeps him grounded when he's not slinging behind the bar.
How did you and Emma meet?
We both worked at the Alexis Hotel at different times. I worked there from 1993-1997 and Emma 2000-2007. We had quite a few mutual friends. (ed note: Schwartzman was also a server and hostess at Union).
What do you like to do when you're not behind the bar?
I like to hang out with Emma. In the winter, snowboarding. In the summertime, I try to be out on the lake as often as possible, do some wakeboarding, go surfing a bit, drink beer. I'm into leisure activities.
I'm not much of a sailor. I'm more of a motor boat guy (yes, i just said motor boat guy). Seattle is a unique place. It's surrounded on three sides by three different bodies of water: Puget Sound, Lake Union, and Lake Washington. They are all connected. Being from [Seattle], I've always been around boats and water. I'm still blown away to this day that you can be hanging out on your boat while the hustle and bustle of a major city is going on around you. I love this town!
How did Summer Dog come about? What gave you the idea?
I've been wanting to do it for years, but just finally pulled the trigger last summer. I saw a guy on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations with a hot dog boat. I was thinking, "That guy is living my dream!"
For those who haven't seen Summer Dog, can you describe the set up?
We converted a 24-foot pontoon boat (party barge) into a floating hot dog stand. We do "street meat" style hot dogs, like the kind you see near bars in Belltown, Pioneer Square, and the Pike/Pine corridor. We float around the lake and boats tie up to us and we make them hot dogs.
Is it hard to juggle Summer Dog and Rione XIII?
I took the summer off to focus on Summer Dog and work on my tan.
Is Ethan and the rest of your crew supportive of Summer Dog?
Totally. Chef even came out one day and gave us a few tips!
There were a few hoops to jump through with the health department, but they were helpful and we got it worked out. We are officially licensed as a food truck.
What's the funniest story from the summer?
One day, a giant outrigger canoe full of 22 Burning Man folks pulled up. We typically don't let people aboard our boat, but that didn't stop them. As we're trying to make them 20 hot dogs, there were kids named after trees running wild on the boat. They were very nice so we just went with it.
You just finished your first year of business. How do you feel?
We feel great. We know we will never get rich doing it, but we can pay our investment off pretty easy and have fun doing it.
What's in store for next season?
Hopefully get back in the water by May 1st and pray for sun.
Will the menu be the same?
The menu will be similar (beef, bratwurst, hot link and a veggie). We try to keep it simple. We are going to try and do more private parties--houseboats, waterfront houses, etc. We did a couple last summer and they were fun. Maybe we'll do some pop-up guest chef night deals on a public dock. Our kitchen on the boat is fairly functional, so we could do some cool stuff.