What happened to Ayo Edebiri’s favorite treat, Cool Dog?


San Francisco Bay Area residents could once get this hot dog-shaped dessert at Fenway Park, amusement parks and supermarkets. Then it disappeared.

The Cool Dog, seen here, has been getting renewed attention since award-winning actress Ayo Edebiri praised the hot dog-shaped ice cream during an interview with Seth Meyers. Courtesy of Dan Weil

For the first time in years, Bay Staters were reminded of a childhood gift they loved for birthday parties and during sports games, thanks to an interview with Ayo Edebiri on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

The cool dog.

For those who didn’t know what the award-winning actress from “The Bear” was talking about, it’s actually a dessert version of a hot dog: ice cream made to look like a sausage, placed in a sponge cake “bun,” with the option to add toppings like chocolate drizzle and whipped cream.

“Bread is cake and dog is ice cream,” Edebiri told the audience. “Mustard is chocolate sauce and relish is whipped cream.”

Edebiri had a hard time convincing Seth Meyers’ audience that the treat was as good as a young Ayo thought, but she’s not the only one in Boston who loves the hot dog-shaped ice cream.

“I’ll never forget how, before the end of the school year, they would give us Cool Dogs for dessert after lunch,” Bryan W. of Weymouth told Boston.com in a survey. “The Cool Dogs were the best of all, and it’s a lasting memory. I don’t know how a treat like that didn’t survive.”

Bryan W. wasn’t the only Boston.com reader who couldn’t locate the treat, which was once sold in supermarkets and amusement parks.

This got us wondering: where did the Cool Dog come from and why did he mysteriously disappear?

Who invented the Cool Dog?

Peter Franklin, now 73, sells real estate with his wife Tara, 66, in Cape Town. But it is he who Edebiri can thank for inventing the Cool Dog in the late 1990s.

At the time, Peter, who had a master’s degree in business from Columbia University, was working in product development in the high-tech industry. His first wife had died after a battle with cancer, according to a 2005 report. The Boston Globe article.

“I decided to stay home and start a business so I could be with my kids,” Peter said. “I thought, ‘What would be fun?’ Ice cream would be fun.”

He started thinking of ways to make this frozen treat a little more appealing, compared to all the bowls and cones of ice cream that were already out there. Around this time, in 1997, he also married Tara, his current wife, who joined him in creating the Cool Dog and running the business.

Peter and Tara Franklin with a cool dog. –Boston Globe Archives

One day, while he was making a hot dog, he thought, “Why can’t we do that with ice cream?”

It made sense to Peter: Like hot dogs, ice cream is a food that people already customized with various toppings, and for the cake’s “bun,” Franklin pointed to popular products like Chipwich as inspiration for how it might work.

But it was impossible to shape the ice cream like a hot dog, according to ice cream equipment manufacturers who spoke to Franklin early on. Having designed disk drives before his Cool Dog company, Franklin was undeterred.

“I took on my role as a new product developer,” Peter explains. “I ordered hot dog equipment and modified it to handle ice cream. It was difficult because ice cream is wet and soft.”

And when your potential business venture involves desserts, that means you’ll have to sample ice cream and other sweet ingredients. They started baking cakes for the bun in the kitchen of their Concord home until they could move into a friend’s test kitchen. That’s where they perfected the recipe: a not-too-thick sponge cake and a rich, creamy ice cream—the best ice cream Peter had ever had.

They then offered it to the general public, starting with tastings at their friends’ businesses, such as a clam shack in Kennebunkport.

“They actually loved it,” Tara said of their very first customers, who received a free Cool Dog if they then completed a survey.

Where could you find a Cool Dog?

When the Franklins felt ready, they sold their first Cool Dogs at the Barnstable County Fair. But it wasn’t until 2001, at an amusement park trade show where food vendors, ride designers and big-name parks like Disney and Six Flags met and exchanged ideas, that the couple got their first break.

Boston Globe archives.

The Cool Dog was chosen as one of the best new products, giving them the publicity they needed to get into amusement parks and sports venues.

Like Fenway Park.

The Lowell Sun It was reported that Aramark, the company that manages Fenway’s concessions, allowed the Franklins to open a store to sell their Cool Dog, which lasted for about a few years.

Subsequent deals were with supermarkets like Walmart and BJ’s Wholesale Club, other sports venues, and amusement parks like Story Land in New Hampshire. While they were particularly popular in New England, Cool Dogs could be found in dozens of states at one point.

Cool Dogs were even a concession option at the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, during a game between the Eagles and Patriots.

“They put us on the Eagles side, so every time we heard cheers, we knew it was bad for us,” said Tara, a Patriots fan.

It was an unforgettable night, Tara said. The Patriots beat the Eagles that year, Tara and her son attended the Lombardi Trophy presentation, and they even ran into former President Bill Clinton wearing Patriots colors.

According to Sun By 2006, it looked like Cool Dog would continue to grow; Peter told the newspaper that they had finally turned a profit and were introducing Cool Dog to more grocery stores – and soon to international markets.

How the Recession Impacted Cool Dog, Inc.

So what happened to the Cool Dog? The Franklin family blamed the disaster on 2008.

They were negotiating a deal with Dreyer’s Ice Cream, which was being bought by Nestlé at the time, under which the company would buy the technology Peter made. But that deal never came to fruition after a wave of layoffs and calls to halt all new production because of the recession, Peter said.

A Cool Dog with toppings. –Courtesy of Dan Weil

They then met Dan Weil, who was interested in turning failing businesses into success stories. Weil said he wasn’t initially interested in the food business.

“I was impressed by Peter Franklin’s creativity,” Weil said. “It didn’t seem like an interesting business opportunity to me. I spent about a year researching the ice cream industry, and the more time I spent on it, the more I really became interested in the opportunity.”

He eventually acquired Cool Dog, Inc. in 2009, changing the ingredients and keeping the distribution scope in New England.

He enlisted the help of his daughter Natalie Weil, then a high school student, and her friends to test the product, often hosting topping parties to see which additions worked and which didn’t.

“I remember at home, we had all the toppings lined up, and my friends and I would go down the line with our Cool Dogs,” Natalie said. “By the end, everyone had these Cool Dogs filled to the brim with toppings.”

Weil made one significant change during his time at Cool Dog, adding a chocolate drizzle to the frozen product that was an optional topping when the Franklins ran the company.

He has avoided putting the treat in supermarkets, with the exception of a few local options like Roche Bros. and Stew Leonard’s in Connecticut. Cool Dogs has also returned to minor league baseball stadiums in the area, such as the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Weil got the Cool Dog back at Fenway, but only for part of a season, and his Cool Dog staff was only allowed to sell them through four peddlers.

He continued to sell millions of Cool Dogs—about 2 million in Boston alone—but he knew that to grow the business as it should, he would have to approach a dessert giant like Nestlé, just as Peter had done several years before.

“Nestlé was the largest ice cream company in the world,” Weil said. “And they told me they had never made a profit in ice cream, that they had been trying to get out of it for years, and that they weren’t looking to get into anything else.”

Boston.com’s investigation into Fenway Park concessions. Boston Globe archives

Without the capital or access to a large company to grow the brand, Weil had reached the end of his rope with Cool Dog around 2015.

The End of Cool Dog

Bad news for Edebiri and other Cool Dog fans: the treat is no longer sold in stores or theaters.

The only remaining boxes of the hot dog-shaped ice cream sundae still sit in the freezers of the Weil and Franklin homes.

“Some are more damaged, but we had one (two weeks ago),” Weil said. “It doesn’t taste bad. It’s not what it used to be, but it’s still pretty tasty.”

Both families have fond memories of running Cool Dog, Inc., even though it didn’t ultimately work out. And the Franklins have enjoyed the recent attention their brainchild has received, giving interviews to other local media outlets after Edebiri’s interview went viral.

When asked if they would ever bring it back, or if it should make a comeback, the Franklins say no — at least not in the way the treat existed before.

Peter has another idea: developing “mini kits” so people can make their own Cool Dog at home. And while they may not have a brand new Cool Dog to give to Edebiri, the Franklins said they’d be happy to send the star a Cool Dog T-shirt.

“We had a great time. It was really wonderful that so many people came back and told us all their memories,” Peter said. “(Edebiri) brought out the best in Cool Dogs.”

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