After watching yet another Food Channel tv show wax nostalgic about the myriad hot dog varieties enjoyed all across America, and seeing LA's venerable Pink's featured, I decided (ok, my stomach decided) that it was time to for a visit to the famous wienie haunt on the outskirts of Hollywood, California.
So I rolled up there last night at about a quarter past 11 in the evening, and even at that hour there was a thick line protruding out on to the sidewalk. Undaunted, I happily sauntered up and took my place in a cue that snaked around a number of metal posts and chains set up much like you see outside of the old time movie theatres. People from all walks of life were busily chatting as the smells of cooking bacon and steaming hot dog buns wafted into the midnight air. It was easy to strike up a conversation, which of course in time turned to food, and who had enjoyed the best 'dog', where and when. You may be thinking at this point in my story, "so what's the problem?" Hold on, I'm getting there.
The camraderie and friendship developed while waiting just under ONE HOUR was the only highlight of this hot dog stand adventure. Why, pray tell?
For starters, the WAIT was interminable. Fifteen minutes would go by and the line had not moved. At all.
The problem, in a nut shell, is that whoever set-up their "system" of taking and filling orders must have died sometime in the 1940s and no one since has bothered to revisit the flow chart. A guy who does industrial time and motion studies for a living would surely have a stroke watching, mouth agape, at the incongruously lame brained method they use at Pinks, namely, whoever takes your order, proceeds to make it for you, regardless of how complex your order is or how long it takes to make it. There are only four people behind the counter, so you do the math. Here's an example: Say that the big guy and his posse in front of you orders 3 Pastrami/Hot Dog Combos, plus 2 chili cheeseburgers, plus fries, plus 2 Martha Stewart specials. It could literally take your cook 10-12 minutes, or more to prepare all that, then wrap it up, get your drinks and serves it up to you. A lone "cashier" stands around for the sole purpose of taking your money at the end of your transaction; meanwhile he is otherwise motionless for 11 minutes. Thus, they have served only ONE customer. That leaves only 3 other employees to do the same routine for the next three customers. Meanwhile, 47 people stand in line and cool their (swelling) heels, rocking back and forth, waiting for their turn just to move forward an inch. Mind you, none of those 47 have given their order -- no matter how small or easy their order might be.
While the burgers are cooking, YOUR cook stands around and does NOTHING until its time to flip your burger, etc. The grill employees, low paid and overworked to be sure, nonetheless seem to be working in slow motion. That's not due to laziness, it's just a reflection of a 'system' that's so slow and dysfunctional, it makes US Post Office employees at lunch time look like an Indy 500 pit crew by comparison
Instead of having one cashier, who takes your order, calls it out to multiple cooks, takes your money and makes change, Pink's has ONE person who does it all --everything -- when it comes to EACH order.
He or she may walk back and forth behind the grill, and squeezing around other cooks, 5 or 6 times. pulling together the various components of your order. There is no economy of movment; every step is repeated again and again and again, turning the simple prep of a putting a lowly hot dog into bun a major production.
There is no "assembly line", no handing off, no ONE person making dogs while another flips burgers or cooks bacon. Fifty people in line? They will be served one at a time, each entire meal fully prepared and served in its entirety before the next ORDER is even taken. So, this is why it takes about an hour, or more, to get one lousy hot dog at Pinks.
And lets talk about that lousy hot dog. First of all, the standard dog there about as thin and narrow as a slightly built, man's ring finger; maybe even a woman's finger ring finger. Talk about "where's the beef'? There ain't none. If you plan on buying the standard dog, better plan on buying at least two. What you're buying is a bun with a hint of meat in it. (Notably, the Polish dog IS a decent size).
Then there's the famous Chili. I have one word: yechh! OK, two words, heartburn. Normally I can power through a Tommy's Chili Cheeseburger in no time and be ready for seconds. I barely got through the one dog before that queasy feeling rumbled to the surface.
Maybe the wide variety of ways they dress up a skinny little hot dog (a slightly overweight 'Slim Jim" would be a more apt description) makes this spot enticing. Or maybe it's the fact that its been there for over 50 years, making it a Los Angeles antiquity. Or the stars black and white photos on the wall. Or maybe 'cuz its a fun place to see and be seen. But whatever it is, it ain't a cuz the hot dogs are good, and it sure ain't the 'short' wait and friendly service. This place is highly over rated. My advice: skip it!
As a former Chicagoan, I know a good hot dog when I see one, and when I eat one. And they ain't serving any good ones over at Pinks.
Anyway, that's my opinion --As comedian Dennis Miller likes to say, I could be wrong.