Hotdogs and Healthy Homes: Thanks, Yesterdog!


Since opening 42 years ago on Wealthy Street in Eastown, Yesterdog has been a cultural fixture in Grand Rapids. Ask people in the city and most will have a personal Yesterdog story, and Healthy Homes does, too. Yesterdog has been a long-time supporter of Healthy Homes, and is an event sponsor for the annual Building Healthy Futures luncheon this October.

Healthy Homes staff went in to visit for lunch last week, some of us seasoned veterans, and one newbie. The thing is, Yesterdog has rituals: be ready to order when it’s your turn, order your dogs first, chuck coins into the tip jar behind the counter, have cash, and for-the-love-of-God, pay attention. Once you’re hip to the rules, Yesterdog is like an exclusive club for those in the know. The decor reflects the history of the place: the booths and tables are carved and marked with the names and messages of people who have come before. Old photos and polaroids of customers wearing Yesterdog gear in different countries adorn the walls. A neon jukebox and old wooden phone booth are centerpieces of the dining area.

The food at Yesterdog is wholly unpretentious, but tasty and comforting. Hot dogs come overflowing with toppings on simple wax wrappers. Chips and a Pepsi on the side.

So, Yesterdog and Grand Rapids are an obvious combination. Admittedly, hot dogs and healthy housing aren’t as obvious of a connection, but the store owner, Bill Lewis, was willing to explain it to us, and frankly, it makes a lot of sense.

Bill Lewis opened Yesterdog in 1976 after “spending his youth as a hippie.” He’d traveled, been to Junior College, seen a lot of the world, worked some unsavory jobs, turned 29, and realized he needed to do something else. He’d previously worked for Mr. Fables, and decided to open a restaurant.

Hot dogs were the focus because there were “a favorite comfort food” for Bill since he was a kid. He had some good friends who were cooks who created the signature chili sauce that keeps people coming back. And man, they come back.

Yesterdog has been voted best hot dog in the city every year since 1991, has been featured in several feature films (American Pie!), and has remained a top destination for tourists and locals alike.

Employees of Yesterdog stick around, too. The average employee stays 10-12 years, some for 20 years. That probably has to do with the way Bill does business. He pays his employees well, and gives paid holidays and vacation.  To Bill, it’s simply “the right thing to do.” He also provides health insurance for employees, and knows how much of comfort it is for them.

His personal values of doing the right thing and helping others extend into the larger community. Yesterdog supports many groups such as ACLU, Amnesty International, and locally, Gilda’s Club, Laughfest, Baxter Community Center, and Healthy Homes.

Yesterdog has supported Healthy Homes since it’s early days in the 00’s. Bill explains it plainly: “I like kids. I like people. I like helping people.”

We are thankful to have a sponsor and fellow community members who are doing good work throughout the city and beyond. Thanks, Yesterdog for being a part of Healthy Homes!