I was driving back to Albuquerque from Denver and I was hungry.
I pulled off the highway, did some googling at the gas station and saw I was less than a half mile away from a hot dog restaurant in Raton. I got excited.
I picked my head up from my phone and looked down the street, feeling a bit silly when I realized I didn’t have to Google. I could see it. I drove on down the street and pulled around back of the bright, red, cheery looking building and met the owners, Naemon and Mahasin.
“My cultural experience is always a food journey. Mo comes from New Orleans, and so with our backgrounds around the U.S., we think we can do some exciting things. I experience culture through my taste buds, and we’re passionate about what we do.”
“Sure, I love a Chicago Dog,” Naemon replied to me after I asked. I wondered whether he was being polite out of courtesy or if he was serious. Then he hit me with the zinger.
“You know Detroit has its own Coney Island Dog, don’t you?”
That threw me off. I’m a Chicago native, and one thing Chicago doesn’t play around with is hotdogs.
“A Detroit dog?” I replied incredulously. “Okay, tell me.”
That was the beginning of a very long conversation about one of the world’s most perfect foods: the hotdog. It turns out the Detroit Coney Island hot dog was indeed developed in Detroit, but that is another story for another day because on this particular day, I was outside in the sun at “Year of the Dog,” a small hot dog restaurant in Raton, New Mexico.
My new friend Naemon Thurman has lived in a few places and seen a few things. Born in Alabama and raised in Detroit, he and his wife Mahasin, also affectionately known as Chef Mo, are food professionals and foodies. Yet here we were, in Raton, New Mexico, talking hot dogs.
Naemon told me after years in the restaurant business, he was ready to do his own thing and his wife Mahasin is a graduate of culinary school in NYC.
“For a while, we were doing the cross country commute, and that is hard,” Naemon said. They were in LA and NYC, respectively, for work. After many other adventures in Atlanta and even as chef at a dude ranch for Mahasin, they eventually moved to Trinidad, Colorado and decided to finally strike out on their own.
Living in Trinidad, Naemon and Chef Mo put their talents to work. They got started selling at local farmers markets via a traditional hot dog cart.
Trinidad was good. Word got around about the chefs with the delicious hot dogs and shortly after, they heard about an available building for lease, came down to Raton, loved it, and opened their doors in July 2020.
Fun with Tiktok.
As you can guess, it wasn’t easy. “We didn’t know how long Covid would last, but we’re surviving,” Naemon said. “We’re going to keep moving forward and hope we all come out of the pandemic this year. We have big plans — we want to have outdoor festivals here. Raton is a place for adventure and lots of folks come through the I-25 corridor.”
We talked a bit about our philosophies on hot dogs (yes, really) and then the elephant in the room could no longer be ignored.
“I am not a perfect man,” I said shamefully. “Sometimes, but not all the time, I like ketchup on a hotdog. But not all the time, I swear!” Ketchup is heresy to hot dog lovers.
Naemon laughed, and then shared some food-related projects he was working on. “My cultural experience is always a food journey. Mo comes from New Orleans, and so with our backgrounds around the U.S., we think we can do some exciting things. I experience culture through my taste buds, and we’re passionate about what we do.”
Conspiratorially, Naemon let me in on a secret after my admission for enjoying the occasional ketchup. “I am working on my own ketchup for hot dogs,” he said with a smile. “It’s going to have some flavor for sure. Coming soon.”
Year of the Dog proudly serves Hebrew National hot dogs and Raton seems happy they’re there. “Everyone in Raton has been terrific,” said Naemon. “We really enjoy it here and see lots of opportunity for the future.”
“I’m pretty much done with the big metropolises. I love the West, love the Southwest,” he said. “I used to have long dreads, I love hippies, used to own a Jeep Wrangler, and I love overlanding (camping out of your car). It’s terrific here.”
Looking forward, Naemon said he and Mahasin are exploring the idea of spreading throughout the Southwest, maybe franchising or opening additional locations. “We’re the best hot dogs in the Southwest,” he said proudly, “and we’re happy in Raton. Look at this place… everyone in Colorado and New Mexico in this region has been fantastic.”
The Taste Test
Dear reader, I know what you’re thinking: “how did it taste?”
Here, for your review, is a picture of my Jalapeño Dog with some cheese. I was in a mood and this hit the spot. The bun is slightly baked — it wasn’t crunchy, but was firmer than a normal bun out of the bag. The slight crunch at the bite was perfect, and every hot dog fan knows the bun can make or break you. All other ingredients having their place of course, but you still gotta nail the bun.
The jalapeños kicked just right, and I was a happy man. I washed it all down with a lemonade, we talked about when I’d be back, and I got back on the road.
I’ll definitely be back.