In 1968 I started my freshman year at Cal Berkeley. I soon learned about a little hole-in-the-wall, called Top Dog on Durant Street, a few short blocks away, where a variety of hot dogs sold for 35 cents. I was hooked. For under a dollar I could get my favorite–a “German,” barbecued corn chips and a medium root beer.
Founded in 1966 Top Dog has been going strong for nearly 50 years. Before driving up to Stockton, where my folks lived, I bought two packages of buns and 12 Germans so they could enjoy what I enjoyed. My sophomore year I moved into a fraternity and 3 or 4 times a week would walk down a buddy or two for my usual. Every time I go back to Berkeley I make sure I stop at Top Dog. Though the price of a dog has gone up ten-fold, nothing has changed about the experience–5 or 6 stools, a line out the door, political posters and slogans from the 60’s.
So how did Top Dog change the world?
In 2013, Steve Wozniak gave the commencement address to the Cal grads. The Woz also lived in Norton Hall and played some of the notorious pranks ever witnessed there…including the retailing of the famous Blue Box, which enabled one to place free phone calls anywhere in the world. Steve went on to found Apple Computers with Steve Jobs in 1976. In Steve’s commencement address he credited Top Dog as the inspiration for the simple design of Apple products:
“It is Top Dog here in Berkeley that inspired me and my computer design so much…[For one simple price] you don’t have to figure out some pennies for tax–50 cents for a dog, 50 cents for a drink…nice simple amounts. It is so simple and nice for the buyer. I like to put that simplicity into all my designs–to make them so simple that the person does not have to do as much work or think as much…. The purpose of engineering is to build devices that make our whole life a lot simpler and give us more fun and save us work and thinking. That was the goal.”
How did Top Dog influence the design of Apple? Note how the curve of the bun exactly matches the curve of the corners of any Apple product. When the Woz saw how easily a sesame seed bun opened up, the thought, “Why couldn’t we have a computer that would sit on your lap and open as easy as a sesame seed bun at Top Dog?” Woz noted that the TV screen was always on at Top Dog and he thought to himself, “Our screen should alway be above our work space and should always remain “on”…that only makes sense. He saw the small bags of chips hanging on the wall and the thought occurred to him, “I think I shall call those….’microchips…yes…microchips.'” There are no utensils at Top Dog. Everything fits in the hand. Steve looked at the condiment dispensers noting their one “button” dispensing system. “Genius!” Simplicity…utility…user experience…beautiful design… of Apple–all coming forth from a humble eatery in Berkeley. Who would ever have thought that regularly eating at Top Dog could so influence the design of a line of products that indeed have changed the world?