After a photo of Ainsley Turner wearing a hot dog costume to her dance class went viral online in May, the Apex girl has become a folk hero for children – especially girls – who dare to be different.
Ainsley, then 6, was pictured in a line of other girls in princess dresses and quickly became known online as the “hot dog princess.” The photo drew a burst of national attention from media outlets and Ellen DeGeneres alike, along with a visit from the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
And while her star has dimmed from Twitter timelines and Facebook newsfeeds, hot dog purveyors and TV producers continue to show interest. One restaurant has even gone so far as to give her a new title – “Hot Dog Queen.”
With July being National Hot Dog Month, it’s naturally a busy time for hot dog royalty. Ainsley, who turned 7 on July 27, has spent her birthday month eating franks and traveling between North Carolina, Los Angeles and Chicago to tend to the various obligations and privileges that come with the title.
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Her parents, Brandon and Tirzah Turner, have said they want to limit her celebrity to appearances that reinforce the positive message many took from her choice to don the hot dog costume. After all, it was Ainsley’s decision to wear her favorite dress-up costume to the princess-themed day at the Holly Springs School of Dance.
But that didn’t preclude them from reorienting their summer travels to accommodate their daughter’s newfound fame.
In early July, Ainsley and her father traveled to Los Angeles for two weeks to film a segment for a national television show, whose name must remain confidential for now, per a non-disclosure agreement. Then, while still on the West Coast, Turner got a phone call from a number with a Chicago area code.
Over the July 23 weekend, the entire family, including siblings Noa and Ian, were flown to Chicago to meet Dick Portillo, a famous Chicago restaurateur who got his start running a hot dog stand and continues to sell hot dogs at Portillo’s, his chain of fast-casual eateries.
“She doesn’t really know the extent of things,” Brandon Turner said after they returned to North Carolina. “Even going to Chicago, where we had a videographer and a PR person with us for 2 or 3 hours, most of the time it was just our family on vacation in Chicago.”
There, Ainsley was crowned Hot Dog Queen, with Ian and Noa presiding as knights at the ceremony.
“We blocked off the entire upstairs and had some of the people who work in our restaurant there to greet them,” said Marc Trevino, Portillo’s marketing manager. “We had Chicago police officers who came to the event, and we wanted to make sure her siblings were involved, too, because I’m sure they love hot dogs just as much as she does.”
The restaurant also filmed a video to celebrate her visit, which includes the official coronation.
“Some people, for whatever reason, have crowned me the Hot Dog King,” Portillo said to Ainsley. “By the power vested in me by Chicago-style hot dogs and Portillos everywhere, I crown you Hot Dog Queen of Chicago.”
Other than those two trips and the new title, it’s been a summer like any other for Ainsley, who is now preparing to return to school as a second-grader at Yates Mill Elementary School.
But there have been a few exceptions, like when Ainsley was recognized on the street in Los Angeles by a family from Scotland.
“And we have a lot of hot dogs in the freezer,” Brandon Turner said. “That’s something that has sort of changed. We ended up with maybe a thousand hot dogs from different companies.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan