The owners of a new hotdog restaurant at the FairOaks Mall hope to make a difference in the community by providing employment opportunities for individuals with special needs.

Special Dogs & More, which serves gourmet hot dogs, ribbon fries and other food items, began in concept three years ago, said Randy Lapidus, who co-owns the business with his wife, Robin.

The restaurant opened Oct. 15.

Lapidus said the idea of a gourmet hot dog business originated a few years after his daughter, Rachel, went into cardiac arrest and later underwent treatment at a rehabilitation center in Indianapolis.

Story continues below gallery

Rachel went into cardiac arrest on July 27, 2011. Her heart stopped beating for more than eight minutes. She had to relearn how to read, write, count and even comprehend the concept of time.

“We just thought what we could do to help open the door for those that are intellectually challenged,” Lapidus said.

The Lapidus family might be best known for its ice cream truck, Neat Treats, started to help with their daughter’s recovery through vocational rehabilitation. Lapidus believes his restaurant, which also serves New York egg cream sodas, is unlike any other in Columbus.

“I have yet to see a good hot dog in this town,” he said.

The seven employees at the business were hired through a partnership with Developmental Services Inc., LifeDesigns and Stone Belt, which all serve people with disabilities.

Rachel Lapidus, 25, who is among those who pitch in with the family business, said she enjoys being able to talk to customers.

Columbus resident Jason Harris, 36, also works at the restaurant by helping wash dishes and sweep floors.

He is enjoying his new job as well.

“Everybody’s real nice,” Harris said.

Columbus resident Roana Huntsman recently stopped by the business with her husband Terry.

Roana Huntsman said she supports the Lapidus’ family efforts to employ those with special needs, noting that her son Josh is also disabled.

“We know there’s a need to be filled for that,” Huntsman said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing they’re doing.”

Lapidus said he considered several locations for his business, but settled on the mall since the location for his place was already set up as a restaurant. He has signed a one-year lease, but eventually hopes Special Dogs & More will grow on a much larger scale.

“I’m hoping this place is too small a year from now,” he said.

Lapidus also said he’s pleased with how the business has gone so far, noting that he enjoys seeing the smiles on workers’ faces, their willingness to work and their desire to prove themselves.

“You don’t get that type of eagerness off the street,” he said.

He added that he is glad to be able to provide employment opportunities for individuals wanting to work.

“For a lot of them, this is the first job they’ve ever had,” he said.

However, Lapidus said he doesn’t expect all of his employees to stay forever, adding that he wants them to get experience and develop self-confidence so they are able to move on to a different position elsewhere.

“Our goal is to utilize this as a training restaurant,” Lapidus said. “Those that know us know that we care about the community and always have.”

Special Dogs & More

Location: FairOaks Mall, 2318 25th St., Columbus

Menu: 10 varieties of hot dogs, side dishes such as coleslaw, baked beans and ribbon fries, hand-dipped ice cream and specialty drinks.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday

Phone: 812-799-0030

More information: Visit specialdogsandmore.com or www.facebook.com/SpecialDogsAndMore/.

Author photo
Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com