From humble beginnings to an eight-restaurant operation, Utah hot dog specialists J. Dawgs is celebrating 20 years in business with a hot dog giveaway on Tuesday.

Back in 2004, BYU student Jayson Edwards pawned his prized Fender Telecaster guitar to finance the opening of a 10-foot-by-10-foot “shack” in Provo to test his idea for serving up the perfect dog. Now, J. Dawgs draws lines at Utah sports arenas across the state as well as the company’s eight locations from Logan to Spanish Fork.

In a documentary about the business, Edwards said he was inspired to try his hand as a hot dog vendor after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Toronto, Canada, where he said street vendors all over the city were grilling up delicious hot dogs. While attending school at BYU, Edwards said he noted the lack of similar options in Provo, and J. Dawgs was born.

And that shack was not only the birthplace of a business that now employs some 240 people. Edwards also met his future wife at the first shop, where their first glimpse of each other came through the stand’s service window.

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How can I get a free J. Dawg?

On Tuesday, visitors to J. Dawgs’ brick-and-mortar shops (find them here) can enjoy a free dog on the house in celebration of the company’s two decades in business. The company says the giveaways are limited to one per customer with no purchase necessary but supplies are limited and “when they’re gone, they’re gone.”

So, what’s the secret to J. Dawgs’ success? Edwards says the food is just a catalyst for a bigger mission.

“Great food shared with a friend is hard to beat,” Edwards said in a press statement. “That’s why we do it — to bring people together.”

Edwards said even as the business has grown, he’s strived to keep his “shack mentality” and “keep things simple and treat people well.”

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While pandemic lockdowns and restrictions proved too big a challenge for many restaurant businesses to overcome, he said J. Dawgs survived the period thanks to both government programs for small business owners and the dedication of its customer base.

“The loyalty that people feel for the brand is not lost on us,” Edwards said.

Beside its loyal Utah fan base, J. Dawgs has partnered with Goldbelly, a curated gourmet food delivery operation that provides nationwide delivery service for anyone with a hankering for a J. Dawgs fix, no matter where they live.

“Building a brand takes thoughtful hard work and a lot of luck,” Edwards said. “Twenty years isn’t lost on me. I realize not many people make it to this milestone. All I have is gratitude for our team and those loyal fans that keep coming back.”

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