Top Dogs

After years of yearning to own his own restaurant, Austin Underwood is taking his show on the road selling Austin’s Underdawgs.

Austin was born with Down syndrome, and doctors told his parents that he would be limited in what he could do. He has exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations regarding his independence.

I went to Aledo High School with Austin, and we have stayed in touch ever since. My husband and I visit him at Campisi’s, where he has been the greeter for three years. Austin’s famous banana pudding, which was his grandmother’s recipe, is featured on the Campisi’s menu. He’ll drop everything to get back in the kitchen and make it for you personally.

In high school, he was mainstreamed in several classes and was manager of the basketball team. Austin went on to attend a program for just 70 students at Eastern New Mexico University, where he received a certificate in food service, learned to be a prep chef and ran a stir-fry station.

His passion for cooking is matched by his enthusiasm about his favorite charity, The Each & Everyone Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of people with limited abilities through vocational training and working in society to the maximum extent possible. “There are a lot of kids out there like me that want to have a job and be on their own,” Austin says.

Austin’s focus is never on what limitations he has, but rather on the future and what he can accomplish. That’s why he didn’t hesitate to open his own food truck, Austin’s Underdawgs, earlier this year.

To prepare, Austin spent time in Chicago at Vienna Beef’s Hot Dog University. “Chicago is a really nice place. At Hot Dog University, we learned how to make hot dogs and had to wear gloves and not get them close to the burners,” Austin says.

With the help of his mother, Jan Underwood, the two developed a menu consisting of gourmet offerings such as The Straw Dog (frankfurter topped with Dawg Sauce, bacon and crispy onion straws), The Italian Dog (tomato meat sauce and mozzarella topping) and the Un-Dawg (a vegetarian offering packed with avocado, tomato, jalapeños, black olives, Sriracha sauce, cilantro and Fritos).

What was the inspiration behind Austin’s Underdawgs? We are trying to raise money for my future, and we wanted to make hot dogs.

What do you serve? For $9, they get a hot dog, a bag of chips, water and dessert. Sodas are $2 more, and we can even do my Famous Banana Pudding for $2 per person.

How can people find out where you are? We only do private parties, but we have a website that shows any events that the people can come to.

What is your favorite part about running the food truck? It’s nice to run a business. It’s fun and I love to meet people. People love buying hot dogs from me. My goal is to one day have my own restaurant. I already have people working for me. It’s pretty easy to run your own food truck once you get used to it. You have to move fast.

In addition to your menu, can you tell me about any other products you sell? We sell mustards and sauces. The Dawg Sauce is the most popular. It is a raspberry chipotle BBQ sauce.

How are you able to balance working at Campisi’s and running the food truck? We start in the mornings, and the trailer is open 11 – 2. Then I go home, get dressed and then get to work on time. I don’t get tired. My mom helps with scheduling.