With a dog and a dream, Napan Kip Atchley plans to revive the classic Doggie Diner — and right here in Napa Valley.
“We’re going to start with what the Doggie Diner was and make it what the Doggie Diner can be,” said Atchley. “I want to create an environment with charm and nostalgia from the past.”
Those who grew up in the Bay Area will likely remember the Doggie Diner restaurant chain.
Open from 1948 to the late 1980s, the diners were famous for hot dogs but also the giant fiberglass Dachshund head statues that topped the restaurants.
The Doggie Diner “was something special,” Atchley said. The dog head “is a symbol of past innocence,” and a source of memories for the many Doggie Diner fans.
The mutt mascot came to be known to generations throughout the San Francisco and the Oakland areas. But after the Doggie Diners closed, the dog heads disappeared.
Some went to collectors, others to the trash.
Atchley, a Napa inventor and entrepreneur, became the caretaker of one such head.
Several years ago, “There was a rumor that there was a doggie head hidden in a warehouse in Vallejo,” said Atchley.
Visiting the site, he entered a huge, rambling room, he recalled. “As I was exploring and in the dark shadows I saw the doggie head in the distance. I felt like Indiana Jones,” he said.
After finding the decrepit dog head and begging the owner to sell by promising he would restore it, Atchley became the proud owner of the fiberglass fixture.
If all goes as planned, Atchley’s Doggie Diner head will find a home at a new Doggie Diner, hopefully at the corner of Silverado Trail and Sousa Lane.
“I just knew that’s what it needed from the beginning,” Atchley said of featuring the doggie head at a restaurant. The canine mascot, “deserves to out there doing his job — making people smile.”
This past week, the 7-foot-tall dog head, sitting on a custom-built trailer, was moved to the corner of Sousa Lane and Silverado Trail, making it hard for anyone passing by to miss.
The 700-pound pup has reddish brown fur, a pair of wide-open eyes and wears a chef’s hat, white shirt, bow tie and double-D “Doggie Diner” logo.
This isn’t the first time Atchley has following his imagination. He has a keen appreciation for whimsy, fun and entertainment.
At age 7, Atchley built his own town in his backyard. At 9, he built and ran a haunted house that included trap doors, electronics, a control room and telephone system. For years, it was a popular stop for locals, fundraising parties and was regularly covered by Bay Area news media.
“I have it in my blood,” he said of creating and working on such projects.
“I learned from the haunted house how satisfying it is to make people happy,” he said.
Hired by the founder of Atari, Atchley, then 21, went on to design play space interiors around the world for Chuck E. Cheese, design gift shops, manage the Wooz maze in Vacaville and work at the family business, Lixit.
In 2007, Atchley was profiled in the Napa Valley Register when he built an extravagant dog house for his pet Miss Poodles.
“The world is full of stress and problems,” he said. People, especially adults, need more opportunities to set aside that stress and have fun, he said.
At the same time, Atchley, who works at Napa Nissan, take his role as dog head caretaker seriously.
“It’s not about a toy or something fun,” he said. The Doggie Diner created an emotional bond with tens of thousands of people. Such ownership comes with responsibility to preserve the dog icon and make sure any future enterprise honors that history.
“I don’t want to build the typical building,” he said. Doggie Diner Napa Valley won’t be just a hot dog stand, said Atchley. It will be more like an actual reproduction of a 1940s diner.
He wants to create a roadside attraction, “so when you come to Napa you can see the doggie and enjoy incredible food and a great environment.”
Another key step includes Atchley and his partners asking the city for permission to build his vision at that corner, including an exception to install classic diner-style signage.
“I want something the city will be proud of,” he said.
When asked how much he paid for the dog head, Atchley would only say “a lot.”
According to Atchley and other Doggie Diner experts, fewer than a dozen such dog heads remain today.
If people know how much it’s worth, “Someone will try and steal it,” he said. The dog is carefully secured behind a chain link fence.
Working with partners to secure funding, a lease and permission from the city, Atchley has been at work on Doggie Diner Napa Valley for more than a year.
“If I do this right, I can make a lot of people happy and indirectly maybe make some money for myself and investors,” said Atchley.
However, “I’m not a multimillionaire,” said Atchley. “I don’t have money to just throw at this and make it happen. I have to put together a team and figure out how we can put this together.”
He already acquired the trademark rights for the Doggie Diner in Napa and other locations. Now, “I’m doing my homework and working my business plan to prove the financials.”
“The problem is hot dogs don’t have a lot of profit margin. So I can’t be overly extravagant,” he said.
“I have to make this economically work,” said Atchley. “If I can’t make the numbers work then I can’t do it. I want to do this 100 percent or not at all.”