Ask local artist Deb Bucci what she loves most about Louie’s Hot Dogs in downtown Wilmington and, aside from their veggie dog with homemade relish, her answer isn’t necessary tangible. “It’s just a feeling,” Bucci says. “This family-owned business does everything with heart!”
On Wednesday, September 18, 3 p.m. – 5 p.m., the take-out hot dog shop is celebrating 30 years serving dogs to ILM. To celebrate owner Mary Garner has teamed up with Princess Street neighbor Art in Bloom Gallery for a celebratory art exhibit, curated by gallery owner Amy Grant. Though the celebration takes place at Louie’s, the art show will be a few doors down at the gallery, featuring seven artists’ drawings, paintings and photographs, ranging in price from $140-$750. Subject matter of the pieces consist of the restaurant and, naturally, our favorite quadrupeds.
“Being downtown, many customers frequent Louie’s with their pet dogs,” Garner says, “and I always offer free hot dogs to their canines!”
Floppy ears, droopy eyes and adorable paws are part of Bucci’s “The Restaurant Critic”—an oil on canvas measuring 22 inches by 18 inches. The painting is a psychedelic take on a basset hound. Bright colors swirl about and frame his bespectacled head.
“The ’60s style eye glasses were added for the element of time and a nod to Woodstock, [which celebrated 50 years last month],” Bucci says.
The piece manages to showcase the scent hound’s quirky personality, yet also tips its hat to modern art. Bucci lets go of realistic shading in some areas to make sure contrast is high and colors pop loud enough to captivate viewers.
“The challenge was in figuring out how to simplify while maintaining the spark of connection,” Bucci says, “with the goal to continually adjust the layering of the color palette, adding shadows and highlights until the art looked unified and exciting. Every line and color choice adds or takes away so the painting process requires trial and error, until you just know—until it makes you smile.”
Amy Grant chose a digital photograph from her private collection to go on display as well. Paul Maldawar’s “Louie’s Hot Dogs” shows a vintage car in front of the shop at the 2015 Rims on the River, held annually in downtown Wilmington. According to Grant, Maldawar captured a sense of history in our city’s past and present roots all in one picture.
“He said he liked the way the colors and lighting of the photograph combined to present the storefront and street in all of its glory,” Grant says of the 86-year-old photographer.
Maldawar graduated from University of Florida and University of Pennsylvania, and he served in the Army. He went on to win many national and local awards in energy efficient architecture, urban design, historic preservation, and philanthropic community service projects, having designed Atlanta City Hall, President Carter’s inaugural reviewing facilities, and Savannah Historic Preservation Plan.
“Paul’s latest endeavor is creating kinetic photography,” according to Grant. “The three-dimensional images change relative to one’s angle of vision. He also executed a series of photorealism paintings drawn from his collection of worldwide urban photography.”
During his vacation in ILM with his wife, Maldawar met Louie’s owner while noshing on veggie dogs with cole slaw. Part of the reason Garner loves running the restaurant comes from meeting and getting to know so many people.
“Many customers have been coming in for 30 years,” she tells. “Some are now even grandparents who bring in their sons and daughters and then their children. It’s really cool I’ve gotten to serve awesome dogs to families that have made this a tradition.”
Before the 235-square-foot restaurant was open for business, it was an alleyway in downtown. The size was perfect for Garner—who had been in the restaurant biz since the 1980s. She bought Louie’s from its owners in 2000, sold it in 2008 to open Manhattan Cafe on 17th Street, but ended up closing the restaurant from the recession. So she bought back the business in 2013 and hasn’t looked back. “I missed Louie’s, the downtown scene and my customers,” Garner tells.
“I’m a giver and treat each and everyone with respect when they walk up to my counter,” she says. And that goes as well for unexpected orders. “One of my repeat customers likes me to sprinkle sugar atop her chili dog. But no matter, I really do put a lot of love in every dog I make.”
To celebrate three decades of service to Wilmington, Mayor Saffo will be on hand to make a proclamation at Louie’s (204 1/2 Princess St.) on the 18, and the art show will be up at Art in Bloom (210 Princess St.), with work for purchase. Plus, Garner plans on extending the fun with a hot-dog eating contest, hosted by her corner neighbors at Tavern Law in coming weeks.