Ronald Pernell’s journey with hot dogs started 18 years ago when he purchased a used cart in Mobile, Alabama.
Now, the new restaurant he opened in Pensacola — called TP Whatadogs at 707 N. Pace Blvd. — is a tribute to the success he found through the small-but-mighty cart alongside his partner, Tammy Steen.
When first firing up the cart in Mobile, Pernell quickly learned how lucrative the business could be after making $750 in a noon to 5 pm shift one Friday afternoon. When switching his audience to late-night club hours, Pernell said he was making $100,000 working 24 hours a week manning the mobile cart.
“America has a lot of opportunities, you only need one idea to get rich,” Pernell said. “Thank God he cleared a path and brought me here.”
Rapidly selling menu items like the No. 6 “Pernell Whatadog,” known by regulars as the “Best You Ever Had,” gave him the faith and courage he needed to open a storefront and believe he could be successful.
Though the “Best You Ever Had” was the consistent crowd favorite, other unique flavors captured customer’s attention, like the Cheetos Bacon Cheddar Dog, Tammy’s Cajun Sausage, Sweet Heat Slaw Dog, Polish Sausage and True Chili Cheese Dog.
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It wasn’t about being fancy, but rather about producing quality, affordable, visually appealing food, Pernell said.
“Every hot dog I made was a bestseller,” Pernell said. “It was a competition within myself. I wanted it to taste good, and I wanted it to look good.”
The hot dogs are made for the hungry and are only sold in a 10-inch size for $10 or a footlong size for $12. All hot dogs come with two sides that are included in the combo.
Steen has added her own flair to the menu by offering up soul food styled sides to pair with the dogs, like collard greens, potato salad, “mack cheese” and sweet heat coleslaw.
You’re guaranteed to leave satisfied, Pernell said, and if you’re not, he’ll remake your order.
Pernell said locally, he established a following by hanging out around Seville Quarter, catering to the late-night, drinking crowd that wanted to load up on calories before heading home.
To the Seville Quarter crowd, Steen said she was no longer Tammy, but known as either “mama” or “auntie” — the kind of mom who will wrap your can of soda in a paper towel for you so your fingers don’t get wet from the condensation.
She said she has always viewed feeding people as a way of taking care of them. As a medical assistant and foster parent, taking care of people has just always been in her blood.
“My mom raised me like that,” Steen said.
In the back of her mind, she always dreamed of creating a buffet-style restaurant called “No Discrimination” where she could create an atmosphere where people could walk in and feel loved.
Even though she never pursued that dream, TP Whatadogs was the next best thing, and she was able to do it alongside Pernell.
“She’s living her dream in my dream,” Pernell said. “It’s what she always wanted.”
The two have already begun establishing relationships with their clientele. Pernell said he wants to be able to help out his regular customers when money is tight, so much so that even if a customer comes into his store saying they don’t have the money to pay for their meal, he will still feed them and accept payment later on when times are easier.
Pernell said he plans to get enough seating for about a dozen guests indoors at a time, but hopes to expand into the building next door for additional seating.
Carry-out is also available though, and orders can be placed by calling the restaurant at 850-450-7546. TP Whatadogs is open every day from 10 am to 7 pm