KAYSVILLE -- All this fuss? Over a little old corn dog?
If there is a more pedestrian food on the planet, one would be hard-pressed to name it. A hot dog, skewered on a stick, dipped in cornmeal batter and fried in oil. It just doesn't get much more basic. Or more blue-collar American.
The ubiquitous corn dog is a staple of county fairs and amusement parks. And you can get them -- often on special -- at most convenience stores. As such, it's hard to justify paying much more than double-digit cents for one.
So when World's Best Corndogs started selling them out of a cart in the parking lot of Egan Automotive on Kaysville's Main Street, and charging $5 apiece, it didn't exactly seem like a recipe for culinary success. And yet, inexplicably, folks are lining up for the chance to fork over a Lincoln.
"I had no idea how much people love corn dogs," said Russ Relyea, owner and originator of this World's Best Corndogs phenomenon.
And what does Relyea say to those who point out they could purchase a veritable raft of convenience-store corn dogs for $5?
"I say, '7-Eleven's right there, bud.' " a smiling Relyea says, pointing down the street.
On Friday afternoon, Kaysee Hulet of West Bountiful was back for just her second-ever World's Best Corndog experience. Her first one had come less than 24 hours earlier.
"I was here last night," Hulet explains. "We had an order to go at Pepperbelly's next door, and after we picked it up we saw this place, with all these people there. We decided to stop and try it."
It was an instant hit.
"My son doesn't even like hot dogs, but he ate the entire thing," she said.
And as for Hulet?
"I love Hot Dog on a Stick," she said, "but this is in a different realm. This is so much better. The batter? Oh my gosh! And I'm sure the honey makes a difference."
Ah, yes. Honey is offered as an optional condiment. Ask for one with the works, and they'll drizzle it with ketchup, mustard and honey. (Don't knock it until you try it, fans of the odd combo say.)
Whatever the lure, here was Hulet -- two meals later -- back for more.
The World's Best Corndogs story begins in November 2011, in the oil boom towns of North Dakota. Following a divorce, Relyea, a Boise, Idaho, native who had worked in the film industry for 25 years and lived in Kaysville for much of that time, found himself working at a restaurant in Williston, N.D.
"They're paying ridiculous salaries up there," he said. "I was making 25 bucks an hour, with a 70- to 80-hour work week, so you can do the math on the overtime."
That following June, the fair came to Williston.
"At the fair, this woman had a trailer with a window on each side, and the minute she opened it was an hour-long wait at each window," Relyea recalls.
The draw? Corn dogs. Relyea was intrigued.
"I waited in line for an hour and 10 minutes," he said. "Then I took one bite and I was, like, 'Lady, you and I are gonna be best friends.' "
Securing the woman's corn dog recipe became an obsession for Relyea.
"I went back every night and told her, 'I'll quit my job, get a tattoo, whatever you want me to do.' "
The woman, whom Relyea says has asked not to be identified, hails from Iowa and has been taking her corn dog trailer all over the Midwest for decades.
"She's now in her 70s," Relyea said. "She's been doing this for 30 or 40 years. She really is the queen of the corn dog universe."
The queen encouraged Relyea to develop his own recipe. So Relyea got on the Internet, looked up every corn dog recipe he could find, and began trying them all in his spare time -- sometimes using the restaurant's kitchen after hours, other times with a turkey fryer out in the driveway of his home.
None of them even came close.
"I think she just wanted to know I was serious about it," Relyea says.
Relyea and the woman would talk on the phone occasionally; him begging her for the recipe, her encouraging him not to give up. Finally, she relented.
"She called me on July 3rd, at 7:35 in the morning, and gave me the recipe," he says, recalling the exact moment. "She said, 'Here you go, Russ. Do good things.' That's all she said."
At this point in the story, Relyea's eyes well up with tears. Here's this big, charismatic bear of a man, standing in the parking lot of an auto repair shop, crying over a corn dog recipe.
But it's more than just the recipe, he insists.
"It changed my life," Relyea said. "I had some brutal years after my divorce, went through some ugly, ugly stuff. I went to North Dakota because I was at the end of my rope. ... But this allowed me to get back home."
Two days after that fateful phone call, Relyea and a friend were making those magic corn dogs out of the back of Relyea's red pickup truck on the side of a North Dakota road.
"There's nothing to do in Williston," he said. "Guys work and drink. But with that turkey fryer and a couple of coolers in the back of that truck, before we knew it, we had a line."
Relyea returned home to Utah last August, and in November he found a parking lot on Antelope Drive in Clearfield and again started selling his World's Best Corndogs from the side of the road. He knew he didn't have any of the required licenses; he just wanted to see if the idea would fly. It did.
Two weeks later, representatives from the city of Clearfield and the Davis County Health Department showed up at his corn dog stand to shut him down.
"What took you so long," Relyea asked them.
Over the winter, Relyea worked with Rob Nunn, of the county health department's food and facilities bureau, to obtain the required permit. He received it in March. And then?
"I'll be darned if Kaysville didn't give me a business license," he said.
Relyea had spent the previous five months working as a cook at The Cheesecake Factory in Salt Lake City, but "the day Kaysville gave me a business license, I quit."
So, this past April, on the last Thursday of the month, Relyea again hung out his World's Best Corndogs sign, this time in Kaysville.
"We had a line the second we put up the sign," he said.
And that first Saturday, people waited an hour and a half for their corn dogs.
"I felt bad, we just couldn't crank them out fast enough," he said.
Today, with a commercial fryer, Relyea can cook 15 corn dogs every five minutes. And while people still line up, the wait is not nearly as long.
Relyea, who currently lives in an apartment behind the parking lot where his corn dog stand sits, has big plans for the future. He says he and his eight employees will continue cooking in Kaysville until Thanksgiving. He now has relatives running a similar cart in Springville, and there are plans to add carts in Logan and St. George. And he's gotten approval for a World's Best Corndogs stand inside the stadium at Brigham Young University football games this fall. He's even talking about a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, as well as licensing Word's Best Corndogs and selling the dry cornmeal mix to license-holders around the country.
"I wanna be the corn dog king of the world," says Relyea, whose grandfather spent a dozen years running Pronto Pup stands in the Seattle area back in the 1930s and '40s. "And I say that in the most humble way."
So, what makes World's Best Corndogs world's best? What's the secret ingredient?
"Love," he and cook Jeff Whittaker, of Kaysville, say in unison. "And, a little bit of crack," Relyea jokes.
Actually, Relyea says there are a couple of secret ingredients, but you'd never guess them in a million years. And he's not about to tell.
"I've cooked for a number of years, and I'd have never guessed these ingredients," he said.
Meanwhile, back at the World's Best Corndog stand in Kaysville -- where open hours are Tuesday through Saturday, "noon-ish to dark-ish" -- Danielle Hale and her daughter Aspen are first-time visitors waiting for their dogs.
"My mother-in-law recommended it," said Hale, of Peterson. "She said they were the best."
But Hale says they'd have to be good to beat the Magic Kingdom's corn dogs.
"We were at Disneyland at the end of May, and they had really good corn dogs," she said.
At the very least, 10-year-old Aspen expects they'll be much better than the corn dogs served at school lunch.
"Those stink," she said. "Everybody at school says they're made of rubber."
The verdict after tasting Relyea's World's Best Corndogs?
"They're good," Hale said. "I think they're even better than Disneyland's."