Doggos Gus’ owner Gustavo Tonella is a believer in giving things a try.
About a month ago he applied for a $25,0000 grant made available through the California Restaurant Foundation who partnered with Chef and TV host Guy Fieri of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Tonella found out about the possibility of a grant from the California Restaurant Foundation. Although the timing was not perfect, he was a little past the deadline, Tonella decided to apply anyway. Tonella spoke to the foundation’s representative.
“She said it’s a long shot and a long process. I usually never try these kind of things. I applied about month ago,” he explained.
As part of the application, Tonella had to tell the story of how his catering business got started. “You had to tell them about your story, and they were looking for originality, uniqueness and how long the business has been around,” he said.
Tonella also had to explain how his business had grown, changed logos over the years. He even showed pictures of him catering some years ago with the help of his then girlfriend, now his wife.
Tonella went through a few interview rounds over the phone and on June 7 he was on a video call with Guy Fieri and they talked for about 10 minutes. Tonella had been told that there was another step in the interview process, but Fieri surprised him by announcing that he was receiving a $25,000 grant. Tonella was shocked and happy.
“He’s really a nice guy, has charm and is really passionate about what he does. He got a couple of celebrities to join him with the grants, like Shaquille O’Neal,” said Tonella.
Tonella debuted his hot dog stand Doggos Gus in 2010, which serves Mexican gourmet hot dogs, after working in the restaurant business in many roles from busser to waiter and chef. When his business became more successful, he quit his day job and dedicated himself full time to Doggos Gus, attending events and working Farmer’s Markets. His idea was to change the way people eat their hot dogs.
“Hot dogs here are served with mustard and relish. In Mexico we dress them up with guacamole, chipotle, chorizo…”
Tonella opened Doggos Gus, the eatery, in North Park, then moved the business to Imperial Beach where it is now on Seacoast Drive. In the meantime his catering business continued to do well with parties, wedding showers, after parties, late snacks for weddings and more.
During the pandemic while Doggos Gus restaurant was slow, the catering business was completely shutdown. Right before the pandemic shutdown and subsequent restrictions, Tonella had secured 92 catering jobs but they were all canceled. Some included opening day for the San Diego Padres and Comicon. Tonella, then got involved in Help the Helpers by bringing food to front-line workers to thank them, but also to keep his employees working. At the same time he hoped the catering would pick up again. The restaurant was so slow that Tonella only opened it for a couple of hours a day.
Tonella said that at first he didn’t believe it was true when Fieri announced he had won. He is one of five recipients of the $25,000 grant, all independent restaurant owners. Now that Tonella has had this experience, he recommends everyone to give things a try. “To those who think they are never going to get it, you should at least give it a try. Always give it a shot,” he said.
The official announcement was made on June 12 during “Guy’s Restaurant Reboot” live show.