PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Near as Dean Young can recall, Dagwood Bumstead started creating colossal sandwiches in his modest cartoon kitchen around 1936.
Through the years, the overstuffed works of edible art built by the bumbling patriarch of the "Blondie" comic strip have become familiar to millions around the world who take respite in the funny pages.
Now Young, who took over writing the "Blondie" strip when his father, strip creator Chic Young, died three decades ago, is realizing a dream by opening a chain of sandwich shops bearing Dagwood's name and whimsical image.
The first Dagwood's Sandwich Shoppe, its walls festooned with brightly colored images from the world-famous strip, opened earlier this month in a Palm Harbor strip mall, not far from the Clearwater Beach studio where the 66-year-old Young works .
The specialty: A 1 1/2 -pound, double-decker, 24-ingredient behemoth called -- what else? -- The Dagwood. Yours for $8.90.
"There's this feeling I have that Dagwood is with us," Young said on the first day. "He's not just somebody who's in my mind living there, he's actually helping us do this thing. It may be a little far out, but I like it, it feels good."
Young is anything but a silent celebrity partner. He worked tirelessly with the executive chef developing signature sandwiches such as the New Orleans Roast Beef Po'Boy and the Turkey Club Royale, putting on a few pounds along the way.
The real business know-how comes from partner Lamar Berry, a restaurant franchising specialist who for years directed marketing for the Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits chain.
Berry thinks the concept will allow Dagwood's to muscle in on a crowded sandwich market led by giants Subway and Quizno s. Young said he wants customers to feel like they're stepping into a comic strip, even in the restrooms that feature wall murals of Blondie (for the ladies) and Dagwood (for the gents). A flat-screen TV continuously flashes panels from the strip.
Berry said he expects 50 or so Dagwood's franchises to open around the country in the next year and, if things go well, 600 to 800 within the next five years.
"What a wonderful idea," said 71-year-old Bob Carmen, who came for lunch with a friend. "It's definitely different, with all the cartoons on the wall and everything."
Carmen doubted, however, that younger people read the comics like his generation and wondered whether images from the strip are as familiar to them.
Ron Paul, president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based restaurant consulting firm, wondered the same thing.
"It's kinda cute," Paul said of Dagwood's comic theme. "It is differentiated [from competitors], but I'm not sure the nostalgia play is going to be good enough. They're going to have to work really hard on the food."