‘Success is one kid at a time’

By KYM KLASS

Montgomery Advertiser

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Charles Lee wasn’t supposed to live past age 5.

Born prematurely and diagnosed with bronchitis and Hepatitis C at birth, odds were not in his favor. A “crack baby,” Lee spent the first two years of his life in a Chicago hospital before he was deemed strong enough to go home.

But before fast forwarding to the smell of hot dogs at his West Jeff Davis Avenue restaurant, That’s My Dog, first understand that Lee learned to cook crack long before he learned to cook for his successful business. And long before he opened an after-school youth ministry on Upper Wetumpka Road.

Lee was only 11 years old and still in Chicago when he held metal spoons over high heat. A year later, he witnessed a best friend shot twice in the head while robbing a store.

And at 13, he was shot in the chest during an altercation that occurred in retaliation for another friend being injured in a shooting. Then there was a Florida prison where he spent time for selling drugs.

“From everything I’ve experienced, it really boiled down to God trusting me with all of my experiences and helping others,” he said.

Lee, 35, doesn’t just walk into Montgomery neighborhoods today to save lives through serving meat inside a bun or through mentoring.

He walks in to change them and to provide experience and opportunity where some may never get it.

And for that, Lee is the Montgomery Advertiser’s January Community Hero, a recognition offered to someone who often works behind the scenes, and who brings value to our Capital City, and who has a story to tell and lessons to share.

Lee does not operate behind the scenes.

He is front and center cooking hot dogs and Conecuh sausage, and grilling sauerkraut, bacon and toppings for specialties like That’s My Gump Dog, That’s My Downtown Dog and That’s My Junkyard Dog.

During a quick break, he sat at one of his restaurant’s tables and talked about the time he spent in prison for selling drugs and how that time made him grateful for past experiences shaping him into who he is today.

Lee talked about for what he wants to do, which is guide children to opportunities in education and the arts.

His work at That’s My Dog has provided him the means, flexibility and self-sufficiency. And the schedule provides him the opportunity to work with the city’s youth through That’s My Child, which provides recreational activities for area youth after school.