HOTDIGGITY DOG! Frankly, JU alums may have ingredients to culinary success | Business
By Kevin Hogencamp/Jacksonville University
Doggonit if a mother-and-son team who graduated from Jacksonville University just seven years apart aren’t cooking up something special on the Northside: Mekeba Sutton and Marquiese Mervin’s Doghouse Gourmet Grille just off Dunn Avenue celebrated its first anniversary in August.
Mervin, who has a side gig as a graphic artist, graduated with cum laude honors from JU in 2010 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in computer art and design, with a specialization in computer animation and interactive media. He says his JU experience has been pivotal in his entrepreneurial and artistic success.
“Not only was I able to brand myself as an artist at JU, but I have entered the world of freelancing with a solid foundation, excellent educational references and experience that continues to grow with each client,” he said. “My time at JU even gave me the knowledge and experience to brand The Doghouse Gourmet Grille.”
Sutton graduated from JU in 2003 with a bachelor of general studies degree in liberal studies and a minor in human resource management.
The culinary business is new for Mervin, but not Sutton: she’s free-lanced as “Ms. Cakelady” to friends and clients for years, in addition to establishing in her circle of family of friends as a go-to soul food cook.
“The main thing is practice, practice, practice,” Sutton said. “Also, I always have my reliable taste-tester (Mervin) to give me feedback when I try new things.”
Located at 11218 McAllister Blvd., Suite 4, the Doghouse Gourmet Grille features hot dogs with 18 toppings ranging from homemade chili to bacon to tangy pineapple salsa. Traditional Southern meals, soul food and homemade pastries also are on the menu. The restaurant, which also caters and hosts private functions, is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Reach them at (904) 551-5616; firstname.lastname@example.org; or at www.facebook.com/TheDoghouseGourmetGrille.
Q&A with Marquiese Mervin about The Doghouse Gourmet Grille and his JU experience:
Why did you and your mother choose to study at JU?
“I chose JU because, at the time, JU began expanding on their Computer Animation and Design (curriculum). That was always what I wanted to do, and JU being close to home, I decided to attend there. My mom chose JU because the Adult Studies program really piqued her interest, and she decided to pursue her degree there. Plus, the campus is great and JU is close to home.”
How has your JU experience helped with your career choices and success?
“JU was a huge help in setting me on the right path. The entire experience as well as an amazing art faculty gave me a true appreciation for the arts and the work that is needed to succeed as an artist. Not only was I able to brand myself as an artist, but I have entered the world of freelancing with a solid foundation, excellent educational references, and experience that continues to grow with each client.”
Why hot dogs?
“We settled on The Doghouse Gourmet Grille after finding an interest in serving different dishes to the Northside of Jacksonville. There will always be a McDonald's, a Wendy's, or a Burger King. So we wondered, why not hotdogs? From there, we wanted to come up with a unique name and theme, with the final result being what we are today.”
What distinguishes a “gourmet” hot dog?
“When you think of hot dogs, you primarily think of a dog with ketchup, mustard, relish, and either slaw for us Southern folk, or sauerkraut for the Northern folk. But, what about a dog topped with homemade chili, jalapeno peppers, a cool dab of sour cream, and chili-flavored Fritos all on a homemade bun? Or, what about a dog wrapped in a steaming hot tortilla with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and salsa on the side? Those are gourmet hot dogs. We love stepping out of the normal conventions of hot dogs and trying new things.”
What’s in store for The Doghouse in the future?
“I truly hope we can grow large enough to expand to the St. Johns Town Center, across other areas in the city, eventually across the state, then across the nation. Hopefully, we can continue to grow and become a large franchise. In the meantime, our primary focus is bringing in the customers and continuing to serve great food and a memorable experience.”