For better or for wurst Winnipeg man’s Instagram campaign to bring back Whistle Dog a real wiener

The Whistle Dog was dead, but Peter Doroshuk wanted another. It had been four years since fast-food chain A&W — known for its burgers, onion rings and root beer — removed its snappy, bisected pork wiener from its menu, but in the spring of 2021, there lingered inside Doroshuk’s stomach an insatiable craving for one more dog.

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The Whistle Dog was dead, but Peter Doroshuk wanted another. It had been four years since fast-food chain A&W — known for its burgers, onion rings and root beer — removed its snappy, bisected pork wiener from its menu, but in the spring of 2021, there lingered inside Doroshuk’s stomach an insatiable craving for one more dog.

Doroshuk, 35, a financial planner who majored in English, could have bought a frankfurter from the grocery store, sliced it down the middle, slapped it in a pan, fried up some bacon, melted some cheddar, unscrewed a jar of relish, put the whole thing inside a white-bread bun and made a homemade version in his kitchen.

Instead, he opened up Instagram, went to A&W’s profile, and let his thumbs do the talking.

(Screenshot)

“Bring back the Whistle Dog,” he wrote under one photo. He wrote it again and again, and again. Underneath a picture of a pedestrian in runners carrying a tray of java, the restaurant’s social media managers wrote the following caption: “A coffee run still counts as a run if you put the right shoes on.”

Doroshuk’s comment? “Bring back the Whistle Dog.”

Another post featured a text box reading “Frothy root beer bubbles. As much fun to say as they are to inhale.” With blatant disregard for carbonated water and sodium benzoate, Doroshuk reverted to his standard line. “Bring back the Whistle Dog,” he wrote.

“It started as a laugh,” he says on a recent lunch break in downtown Winnipeg.

“Obviously, I have a fondness for the Whistle Dog, and I don’t know what the catalyst was, but at a certain point, I said that I was going to comment on every single Instagram post until they brought the Whistle Dog back. I never thought that it would be a possibility. I was just yelling into the void and I never expected the void to yell back.”

The whimsical mission was an impassioned comedic bit, meant to give him and a few friends a smile, but Doroshuk had an honest affinity for the menu item.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The whimsical mission was an impassioned comedic bit, meant to give him and a few friends a smile, but Peter Doroshuk had an honest affinity for the menu item.

“I would come home from college in the summer and, with the boys, we would grab a few dogs as a treat,” he says. “I also feel strongly that there’s a market for fast-food hotdogs that wasn’t being filled after the Whistle Dog left.

“It would come up in conversation from time to time. It was gone, but not forgotten.”

He didn’t tell many people about his little joke, which he openly admits is an “inherently ridiculous thing to spend time doing.”

“I told my partner and she said I needed to get off the internet,” he says with a laugh.

Meanwhile, his dog campaign got hot. People started commenting back. Responding to him. Sending him messages of appreciation for his noble pursuit. Some people beat him to it, commenting before he had a chance.

What had he started? “A movement is too generous a term,” he says, grinning and giggling.

“It would come up in conversation from time to time. It was gone, but not forgotten.” – Peter Doroshuk

Then counter-movements to bring back other items began. “The veggie nugget people were a candle that burnt bright but short.”

Then, this past spring, Doroshuk got a strange message on Instagram. A group from Vancouver was filming an independent documentary about the Whistle Dog, and wanted to interview him.

“At first I thought it was a joke,” he says. “I was nervous, because I’m not a Whistle Dog expert and don’t really have anything valuable to say.”

Sure enough, an eight-person crew arrived in Winnipeg in May. They rented an Airbnb in the Exchange District, where Doroshuk, who uses a pseudonym on Instagram, was interviewed about the dearly departed fast-food menu item.

After filming the talking heads, the crew took Doroshuk to the Polo Park A&W location to shoot B-roll.

“Who is funding this?” a dumbfounded Doroshuk kept asking himself, growing more skeptical by the minute. He was reassured this was not an ad, he says. Independent.

He was directed to look at the menu pensively, reminiscing over franks of yore, when the restaurant’s franchisee walked out, holding a tray topped by an item which Doroshuk hadn’t espied since he was but a man of 30. “Is this what you’re looking for?” asked the franchisee.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Peter Doroshuk set out on a personal mission to revive the A&W whistledog, commenting ‘Bring back the Whistle Dog’ on every single Instagram post the company made since early 2021.

‘So I eat it on camera, and I’m taken aback, because I didn’t expect any of this,” says Doroshuk. It was obvious this was all being done in co-ordination with A&W. He went home feeling duped. He withdrew his consent, declining to participate in the documentary, but says he would have possibly done so had he been told from the start it was a promotional video.

“I’d have been on board, because it’s a ridiculous thing.”

Having seen behind the curtain, he was made to sign documents swearing him to secrecy until the online documentary’s summer release, lest he blow the whistle (dog).

That was strange for Doroshuk, who continued to write his standard comment on the restaurant’s posts despite knowing a decision to bring the hotdog back had already been made by the burger family. “I did it for appearance sake,” he said. “It was a weird period.”

On July 25, the Whistle Dog returned — all dogs go to heaven, but some come back — and the restaurant named for Roy W. Allen and Frank Wright issued a press release at 4 a.m., sent to media outlets across the country.

“Since it disappeared from the A&W menu in 2017, there’s one legacy item that fans have been committed to getting back: The Whistle Dog,” the release read. “Take one fan in Manitoba for instance — a dedicated Whistle Dog warrior that went out of his way to comment on every single A&W Instagram post since 2021 saying, “Bring back the Whistle Dog.”

His battle fought and won, the “warrior” did what he’d wanted to do for so long. He went to Cityplace with his friend Mike and stood in line at A&W. “He’d never had a Whistle Dog before,” Doroshuk says. “He’s coming from a Costco dog, 7-Eleven dog background.”

They ate their lunch in True North Square. “It’s a summertime dog. You need to eat it outside.”

“It’s a summertime dog. You need to eat it outside.” – Peter Doroshuk

In the month after the great return — which is for a limited time only — Doroshuk had eaten four Whistle Dogs. And in August, once the documentary was posted online, he joined a reporter for a fifth. “I’d never turn down a dog,” he said.

Without his silly, low-stakes personal battle, Doroshuk says, with a biblical level of sarcasm, that he feels lost. “In a way, I don’t know what to do with myself,” he said, during what was likely the strangest conversation of his week. “What’s the phrase? I’m a sojourner in a strange land. I had a purpose and now it’s gone. And although I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish, what is left? What still remains?”

As he bites into his Whistle Dog, a group of women dine on onion rings at the next table. One leans over. “I didn’t know they had hotdogs here,” she says.

ben.waldman@winnipegfreepress.com

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
Reporter

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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