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Monday, May 23, 2022
<p>Otis Britt, owner of Gator Dawgs on West University Avenue, turns off the open sign at the front of the restaurant. Gator Dawgs will officially close Sunday.</p>

Otis Britt, owner of Gator Dawgs on West University Avenue, turns off the open sign at the front of the restaurant. Gator Dawgs will officially close Sunday.

Otis Britt doesn't like sad endings. 

That's why he doesn't like "Gladiator." It was great until Russell Crowe died at the end. He feels the same way about Mel Gibson's "Braveheart." The "Rocky" movies, though - those are good.

Britt, 42, has posters from these movies - and dozens more - hanging on the walls of Gator Dawgs. He opened the restaurant at 1023 W University Ave. in the mid-2000s, just before the recession hit. Business was good, and the hot-dog restaurant was as packed as the walls.

But business has slowed, and Britt said the restaurant he owns is pulling in less than half the money of what it needs. He'll serve his last "dawg" on Sunday.

He estimated he'd need to end each day with about $500 more than he's getting right now. When the economy and Gators football team were hot, the weekend tailgaters poured in every weekend. Even without the games, people came to taste the burgers, sausages and hot dogs with so many toppings that some filled multiple lines of the menu.

Former UF Student Government President Ashton Charles came in so often for the vegan hot-dog dish she created that it was added to the menu and named after her: "The Ashton Dog."

"Every year was better," Britt said.

He said the Fest has always brought lines of "the nicest people" that extended out the door between sets at the three-day music festival.

"The Fest is like two football seasons in a weekend," he said.

He said Gator Stompin' could bring a crowd, too, but it was a little more drunk and just not the same.

Gator Dawgs would have closed earlier, Britt said, but he and his wife, Candy, agreed they would stay open for Fest 10 this year.

The restaurant almost closed in January because of the lack of business, but business picked up for a few weeks, and Gator Dawgs stayed open. Britt held a "Ghost Chili Challenge" in September.

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This time, though, he said there's no hope for the restaurant.

"I don't really want a lot of business," he said. He's the only one working, and he said the restaurant will close either way.

Brendan McKay, 23, a second-year law student, ate lunch at Gator Dawgs for the first time Wednesday. He and his friends had heard the restaurant was closing. They had never eaten there, even when McKay attended UF as an undergraduate.

He had a burger and a hot dog, both smothered in peppers.

"I think the appeal of it is what you can get on it, not necessarily the quality of the food," he said.

Devoted fans posted about their favorite items and gave condolences on the Facebook page. One woman said she travels "literally thousands of miles" for the mac and cheese hot dog.

For Britt, though, the end of Gator Dawgs also means a steady paycheck, weekends off and less stress. He plans to stay in the food-management industry, working for someone else for a change.

That's not to say that closing the restaurant isn't a little hard for him. He wondered aloud why he hung his posters so high on the walls as he struggled to take down a poster he sold to a Gator Dawgs devotee for $5.

"I guess I thought I'd never be taking them down."

 

Otis Britt, owner of Gator Dawgs on West University Avenue, turns off the open sign at the front of the restaurant. Gator Dawgs will officially close Sunday.

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