The Mutts business plan is nothing new, as the owners and operators have been playing with this idea for a little more than a year. Cally Johnson, Kathryn Mathis and Chris Lower are the owners of BTT, and the frankfurter idea came to fruition when Chicago chef and native Oklahoman Rick Bayless had breakfast at BTT during a Thanksgiving visit home. Bayless and his wife, Deann, are the highly successful owners of three restaurants that are always in the spotlight in Chicago.
“Rick Bayless told us, ‘You need to come up and let us show you Chicago,’” Johnson said.
The group did get to Chicago. It was a national restaurant show that drew Johnson, Mathis, Lower and his wife, LaVeryl, to the city, along with Rachel Wojciak, the general manager of Mutts and BTT. Bayless and his wife cooked for them in their own backyard and took them to their elegant Mexican restaurant, Topolobampo. But it wasn’t just Bayless’ goal to cook for the group. He also wanted to inspire them — specifically with Chicago’s Hot Doug’s, a restaurant that bills itself as a “sausage superstore and encased meat emporium.”
Back home in Oklahoma, the owners had to delay Mutts because they were instead planning to devote several weeks for Food Network filming with Big Truck. However, plans changed.
“We were looking forward to opening on May 1st, because we were waiting to see if we needed to take eight weeks off for the Food Network, (in order) to compete with our taco truck against others nationwide,” Johnson said. “We were told ‘no,’ but, as they said, production could change at any time.” Johnson said it is now full-speed ahead, and the owners hope to get Mutts off the ground within 30 days.
above from left Rachel Wojciak, Cally Johnson, Chris Lower, Johnson and Kathryn Mathis
Located in a building that has been around since the ’60s, Mutts will hold 75 seats, which is three times more than BTT. Although there is no outside seating, they have gutted the inside and made it into a place to relax and take a break.
“The decor is cool,” Johnson said. “It has a real ’60s retro feel on the outside, and our signage was designed by (a) neon sign artisan in Austin and our logo looks like the ’60s and ‘The Jetsons.’” Other highlights inside the restaurant include pendulum lights and two huge communal tables that are 15 feet long and will probably seat 20 people. Johnson said that Lower has incredible taste and everything in the new space will be custom-built.
Of course, like its big brother, Big Truck, Mutts will also have a hot dog truck, which will be the third in their fleet traveling to new destinations around town and catering at special parties.
The new Mutts will feature a topof-the-line drive-thru, making Johnson just a wee bit frightened about all the ways that could go wrong, but she has the needed confidence.
“It’s the whole headset and ringing the order up. And what if it gets messed up?” she said. “But we anticipated all the worst things in BTT, and it never happened.”