Earlier this summer thousands of hearts sank while stomachs simultaneously growled. The day started as a beautiful Sunday, and it wasn't until midway through the morning's Instagram scroll that the news of Cobra Dogs' unsuspected summer absence sank in. Quite possibly the only hot dog stand that's worthy of recognition would not be selling dogs for the first time in 12 years.
If you went to Government Camp, Oregon–just down the road from Mt. Hood and directly next to High Cascade's old dodgeball court–you would find Cobra Dogs. It was every summer slider's first choice for a post-glacier bite. For those that have dined at the culinary mecca, the small red trailer needs no introduction. In fact, the same is even true for many that have only heard fabled tales.
The operation itself, while physically small, was enormous in its reach and impact. It all began as nothing more than a joke, yet the prized hot dog stand turned into an empire overnight. People who have never even gone snowboarding know about Cobra Dogs. However, while accolades are easy, one must start from the very beginning to appreciate the true gravity of Cobra Dogs.
Cory Grove stumbled into Cobra Dogs in true serendipitous fashion.
The long-time Oregonian photographer and industry TM had been attending a snowboarding premiere in Seattle, Washington when lightning first struck. Paired with friend and soon-to-be industry heavyweight, Jesse Grandkoski, Cory set off on a mission to fill the tank and soak up the suds. "It must have been between three and four in the morning. We were drunk and went to this little hot dog stand. It was $7 a dog, and the guy asked if we wanted cream cheese. I thought that sounded disgusting, but if the guy was going to charge $7 for a dog, I was going to get everything that I could," Cory remembers. Gears clicked, and soon both began to joke about exploring the enterprise themselves.
But quick quips can grow legs, and before long the two were scheming away on a new means to pay for summer lift tickets on Mt. Hood. Research and development was the logical first step. "It wasn't a focus group or anything. We just smoked weed and made hot dogs," Cory recalls. "About a week later I found a cart for $700." Soon after, Cobra Dogs opened in Government Camp, Oregon, in the summer of 2005.
Their success was immediate. After only a single summer of sales, they began their first round of expansion. However, Jesse had also started Airblaster the very same year and was stretched thin between both growing beasts. Cory did what any successful hot dog salesman would do; he put down his camera and bought Jesse out.
The following summer, Cobra Dogs expanded from its initial home in a tiny cart to a larger trailer where dog sales could be maximized. The same year, Cobra Dogs' success was cemented by a cease and desist notice from Hasbro. The unassuming original logo had been ripped directly from GI Joe's Cobra Commander, as Cory had not anticipated the trailer's quick success. "It was almost a blessing in disguise," remembers Cory, "My friend Aaron Draplin (who designed the Union, Coal, and Grenade Glove's logos–to name a few) re-did the logo to what it is today—and he did it for free."
From there, the rest, as they say, is history. With each summer Cobra Dogs grew. Fueled by hoards of hungry campers and famished pros, Cobra Dogs blossomed from a small joke into a full-fledged business. Lines would form that stretched down the block and around the corner. New arrivals to Government Camp were dictated by mandatory visits. Merchandise flew off the shelves as the notoriety of Cobra Dogs grew with each t-shirt purchased and sticker slapped. Soon it became a question of if you went to Mt. Hood in the summer, and didn't stop at Cobra Dogs, did you really even go to Mt. Hood?
"Danny Kass was the first to really act as an ambassador. We were really good friends in those days. He even had a pro model hot dog, the 'Kosher Kass,'" reminisces Cory. Around the same time, Cory hired his first employee DJ Matty Mo, picked up his first brand sponsorship from Forum Snowboards, and expanded into an even bigger trailer. This time the rig was wrapped with a beautiful, yet extremely unsettling re-enactment of Lady and the Tramp. Think sharing a noodle, but with a big ol' Cobra Dog instead.
These are the years I remember most fondly of Cobra Dogs, for they are the years that I would also spend my summers on the glacier. I was working as a photographer for High Cascade Snowboard Camp, living paycheck to paycheck, and still somehow affording myself a weekly Cobra Dogs stipend. The best part? I was far from the only one. Campers like Big Pete were notorious for spending small fortunes at Cobra Dogs. When asked about the number one dog consumer though, Cory was quick to answer–"Kyle Fischer. When he was a camper he'd have chili all over this face and was super annoying–I love him now though, funny how that works." Personally, I remember Kyle yelling at me to put a helmet on when skating. Now we're friends as well. That is the nature of Cobra Dogs, and also the reason for its success.
In 2010 Cobra Dogs broke ground on a new expansion that was beyond their existing remote pop-up locations. Cobra Dogs had been making a regular appearance at the Downtown Showdown in Seattle, Washington. They had also been at the Grenade Games, Forum Young Blood tour stops, and Snow Boy Production's, Holy Oly (before they added the "B"). Cory was no longer tied to Government Camp, nor High Cascade. It only made sense to open a franchised location with their small portable trailer at the base of Park City, Utah's halfpipe in 2010. In 2012, Cobra Dogs expanded further and opened an official location at the base of the pipe and became a year-round hot dog vendor with Matty Mo at the helm.
This new endeavor, and the era of Cobra Dogs that came with it, not only marked the peak of business for Cory but also served as his first introduction to many of the factors that led to this summer's break. Logistics were tough, and Cory is a man of standards. Since its onset, Cobra Dogs has only sold hand-made hot dogs and buns from a local vendor in Portland, Oregon. While I have no experience in such logistics, I can only imagine the headache. Numbers became a thing and explaining something's ethos that's as youthfully rooted as Cobra Dogs to a large corporation sucks. After five winters of operation, Cobra Dogs said its farewell to Utah–but not without first adding Alex Sherman as a new integral member of the team.
Refocused and refined, Cobra Dogs returned to its home in Government Camp in 2015 with continued pop-ups throughout the snow world. By now, the legacy was substantiated. Forum Snowboards had said its farewell, but brands like Union and Airblaster had filled the void. From goggles to Leg Bags, long-time friend Jesse Grandkoski and Cory were collaborating once again. Cobra Dogs' growth continued with Union Bindings, with whom Cory recalls, "a big mural on the trailer that snowballed into a binding collaboration. I really think that was what put us on the map."
From there, riders like Ted Borland, who was both an employee and ambassador, championed the small eatery and could be seen sporting the logo in videos across the web. I myself would wear the coiled cobra on my chest as often as I could. In fact, I even brought my old faded t-shirt and hoodie with me on my recent move to California. Not because I plan to regularly wear either, but because I could not bring myself to abandon them. To me, they are a token of time, place, and people, more than of the food they were the face of.
That is the true beauty of Cobra Dogs. More than the infamy of a hot dog stand, and more than the taste of the incredible ¼ pound dog–it was a place for the community. Cobra Dogs was started with smiles stretched ear to ear, and Cory's primary focus from sun up to sun down was sharing the same. I'll chuckle to myself from now to eternity remembering 12-year-old Red Gerard working the register and trying to make change for my daily Hot Snake. Moreover, the people that I had the good fortune to meet through the small hot dog stand are still friends of mine today.
For those inside the stand, the emphasis on community proved even more relevant. Working inside the Cobra Dogs trailer for a summer meant trading crumpled bills for greasy dogs with just about every "significant person" in the snowboarding community. Cory's first employee, Matty Mo, is now a prolific Salt Lake DJ with a tenured career performing in industry-centric venues and beyond. His second employee, Alex "Littlest" Sherman, is now both an athlete and marketing manager for the coveted three stripes. Ted Borland is a professional snowboarder, and the list goes on–Alexa McCarty, Lauren Rudin, Spencer Schubert, Parker Duke, Jagger Heckman, Nirvana Ortanez, Hondo, and Tom “Hot Snake” Haraden all spent summer’s slinging in the trailer. Even today's young-guns–and yesterday's very-young-guns–Toby Miller and Red Gerard spent sweaty afternoons inside the trailer.
However, as Cobra Dogs grew, it only became easier for onlookers to misjudge the realities of running such a business. What looks like fun–was sure as hell a lot of fun–but also difficult. "Grease in your hair, and mayonnaise in your underpants, literally every day. It was gnarly," remembers Cory. "Most people conclude that I took a break because camp moved out of Govy–which is absolutely not the case. We haven't relied on camp for a long time. We were opening two months before camp started, and still had a line down the street the same as any summer." Plain and simple, things change, and 12 years is a long time.
Today, Cory is neck deep in his most recent endeavor–a sticker business. Ironically enough, he has been too busy to even come up with a name. At the time of this publication, he is in full production mode and is looking forward to connecting with Aaron Draplin yet again to design a logo and brainstorm a name for the most recent endeavor. One that if we were to bet on, is surely bound for success.
So while there were certainly growling stomachs in Government Camp this summer, it is important to remember a break is just that, a break. Cobra Dogs will be back. And when they do come back, it will be with a rejuvenated energy that will without a doubt rival that of Cory and Jesse's on the first fateful night in Seattle. The only thing holding my stomach over? Knowing that the wait will only make my first dog that much tastier.