Cupid’s Hot Dogs hits a bullseye for California fast-food nostalgia6 min read
Los Angelenos, as Billy Joel wrote, all come from somewhere.
The same could be said for many Orlandoans, who come here to live in sunshine, as well.
Sorot “Boyd” Chamlongsupalak is one of them.
[ T-bone time machine, an old school steak-out in Sanford ]
Though born in Thailand, Chamlongsupalak was raised in the U.K., so it’s no surprise that three years living in the warmth of the City Beautiful has transformed him into something of an ambassador.
“I love Florida so much!” he says. “I feel really at home here.”
Wife, Chira, was a Thai-born baby, too, but in her teens, Chira’s family relocated to Pasadena, Calif. The arid weather had its undeniable charms, but she imprinted more precisely on what by the 1980s was a fixture in the San Gabriel Valley: Cupid’s Hot Dogs. In particular, the chili-cheese.
The soft roll. The snappy Vienna dog. That signature chili. She was hooked.
So, too, are her fellow Angelenos, who’ve been making spontaneous U-turns on the reg since she and her husband opened the first east coast outpost of Cupid’s on Lee Road in March, where its iconic, heart-shaped sign towers.
“There’s not a week that’s gone by where we don’t have at least five or 10 customers say, ‘I used to have this as a kid!’ They have to stop in.”
And then they come back. Often, like the folks in L.A., with their children or grandchildren. Chamlongsupalak marvels.
“It’s not a huge brand,” he notes. “There are only a few branches. But people recognize it instantly and we’ve had a lot of compliments. The customers are so surprised and happy.”
Growing up, Chamlongsupalak was a fish and chips guy, but since opening, he, too, has been struck by the Cupid’s arrow.
“I now eat chili dogs every other day,” he says.
I’d never had Cupid’s before, but I can see why.
It’s a staggeringly simple product. The menu’s barely changed in 75 years. But of the dogs sampled on my pop-in, Cupid’s chili dog was an undeniably craveable new discovery.
I went with the spicy option ($4.75; basket and combo upgrades available), which imbues its ground beef with a gentle heat that’s wonderfully complimentary to the savory snap of the all-beef Vienna hot dog. Chopped onion adds another textural layer. It’s hardly rocket science. But the chili really makes it unique.
There was a little family-run stand in Oyster Bay, Long Island, I’d visit often in the early ‘80s. Hot dogs and homemade Italian ices in three flavors: lemon, orange and chocolate. You’d sometimes find seeds in the former. And this place — though housed in a comparably cavernous former Taco Bell — gave me those exact same feels.
It’s not surprising that when the Chamlongsupalaks — who met in Thailand — moved stateside and began pondering what to serve in this newly acquired location, “Cupid’s popped out of Chira’s head right away,” her husband said. “Within a week or so, we were flying out to talk to the Walsh sisters.”
Kelly and Morgan Walsh are the third-gen operators of Cupid’s, which their grandparents founded in 1946.
“I’d go to the store with my dad on weekends when I was in elementary school,” Kelly Walsh told the Orlando Sentinel. “We’d come out, eat a hot dog, hang out with the employees — kind of like my four-year-old is doing right now.”
The sisters grew and worked in the family business, but didn’t consider running the show until their father passed away, somewhat suddenly, in 2009.
“It was decision time,” Walsh explains. “Sell it? Close it? Hire someone else to run it? Or just figure it out. And so that’s what we decided to do. Cupid’s has been such a big thing in so many people’s memories here in the Valley. It’s a tradition. And we didn’t want to let that slip away.”
Their dad had dabbled in licensing Cupid’s years ago, but the practice had dwindled.
“We want to grow the brand but don’t have the time or resources to do it personally. We’ve had people reach out over the years, but they weren’t a great fit,” says Walsh. “When we met Boyd and his family, we really liked them. His wife grew up here and their vision and drive and excitement to open a Cupid’s was contagious.”
Slowly, but surely, Chamlongsupalak might say.
This is his first fast-food foray, but he’s no stranger to the biz overall. Back in Thailand, he culminated a food/drink background with gigs at RJ Nabisco and a Director of Sales/Marketing position for LVMH (Moët & Chandon and Dom Perignon) before starting Thailand’s first-ever food delivery service — then called Room Service. It has since rebranded to ChefsXP.
At press time, Cupid’s Orlando was about to branch into more intimate delivery — via its drive through — which was slated for a June 15 opening, and will extend the venue’s hours. Customers are looking forward to the ease, whether they’re scratching the chili dog itch, or one for the slaw dogs (the sweet, mayo-based variety), Reuben dog (cheese and sauerkraut) or a quite satisfying Chicago-style version.
The Walshes added it to the Cali menus about five years ago with great success.
“We just wanted something that was just a little lighter. We get everything from Vienna — we wanted it to be as true to Chicago as we could.”
You won’t find the poppy seed roll, but everything else is on point. I’m sticking with that beefy chili dog, though, side of onion rings. I prefer mine sans sauce, but the Chamlongsupalaks recently created a dip just for the rings — a little sweet with a hint of spice. They’ve been floating up test balloons — with input from the Walshes — and seeing what sticks.
When they do, you might just find locations around Orlando. Chamlongsupalak hopes to open several – perhaps purpose-built — and is looking at the east side of town, near UCF, as the next target. Meantime, Lee Road will be bringing more of Cupid’s Cali culture to the mix, with car hops — the Walsh sisters did roller skating duty at home in the Valley for their customers during COVID — and weekly car meets featuring classics and specific clubs, family events for a brand with epic family history, but one that’s steeped in neighborhood vibe.
“The vibrancy of the California locations is what we’re looking to bring here,” says Chamlongsupalak.
Want to reach out? Find me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @amydroo or on the OSFoodie Instagram account @orlando.foodie. Email: [email protected]. For more fun, join the Let’s Eat, Orlando Facebook group or follow @fun.things.orlando on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.