The article posted below is written by Roadside Peek contributor John Salvatore on the history and state of the great Huntington Hot Dog. Many thanks to John for both article and photos.
UPDATE 6/03 : John Salvatore has updated his extensive and informative article on The Huntington Hot dog as written below. Many thanks to John for this contribution to us, the reader. 06-03
The Huntington Hot Dog
Just thought I'd let you know that hot dog / root beer stands are alive and well in Huntington, WV - including a Frostop Drive-In complete with the still-functioning mug as shown in your photo. Huntington, the state’s largest and most beautiful city, is located along the Ohio River where Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia meet. The Tri-State area is roughly a 50 mile-radius. Hot dogs and Root-Beer in Huntington are like pizzas in New York City – where the natives rarely eat at Pizza Hut or Domino’s.
You’re probably not a Huntington native if you’re eating hot dogs at Dairy Queen or Sonic. Because you have not one, but at least seven local companies with almost 30 outlets – 12 of them root beer stands! (the overwhelming majority are Sam’s Hot Dog Stands with 18 area locations). Keep in mind that this does not include all the little “Dairy-ettes” that dot the Tri-State, each with their own unique chili-sauce. Thus, the “Huntington - style” hot dog is a regional phenomenon, anchored by Stewart's Original Hot Dogs (more on that in a second).
Robert C. McGinnis and William E. Warnock founded Frostop Drive-In in 1957. It was sold in 1980 to the Murdock family. Marilyn Murdock inherited it after her mother died in 1996 and continues to run it today along with her sister. Except for an additional kitchen being added in the early 1960s, everything about the restaurant is the same as it has always been, including the hot dog sauce. Frostop is one of my favorite places in the world. The root beer is like nectar. Great hot dogs too! I live three hours away in Columbus, Ohio, a city completely devoid of root beer stands but abundant in “Coney’s,” which are good - but nothing like what is available in Huntington.
In his article titled “Root Beer Pilgrimage – On the trail of a Summertime Treat,” published June 27, 1999 in the Charleston (WV) Gazette, Douglas Imbrogno discusses the McDonald’s restaurant that opened behind Frostop some years ago, “….a McDonald’s opened smack-dab behind Frostop. With its utterly undistinguished, totally un-idiosyncratic food and drink, the McDonald’s stands as an affront to everything which the big [Frostop] root beer mug that spins merrily nearby stands for. The Frostop mug is a beacon of Americana. It’s calling you to old-fashioned Yankee virtues like individuality and home-grown values.”
The sauce on Frostop hot dogs is clearly an imitation of the sauce on Stewart's Original Hot Dogs – owned and operated by four generations of the Mandt family, and Huntington’s oldest drive-in.
The first Stewart's Original location, still operating today
The recipe for Stewart’s Original sauce is closely guarded, resulting all kinds of theories and local urban-legends about what is in it. Stewart's Original dates back to 1932. When it opened they sold only popcorn and Stewart’s Brand root beer. Shortly thereafter, hot dogs were added to the menu with the famous sauce created by Gertrude Mandt. Although they continue to sell Stewart’s Brand root beer to this day, apparently there once was a dispute that revolved around Stewart’s Original and a bunch of “Stewart’s Root Beer” stands that began popping up in the area beginning in the late 1960s. Many people were fooled and thought they were eating the same hot dogs we enjoyed in Huntington. The stands were painted the exact colors of Stewart's Original and even seemed to mimic the chili sauce (they came close – but nothing compares to Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs). Because of this, the Mandt’s adopted the “Original” moniker to distinguish themselves from their competitors. We always referred to these other “Stewart’s” root beer stands as "Generic-Stewart's."
Soon after, Stewart’s Original began a campaign to educate the Tri-State area on their new logo – featuring a silhouette of founder, John Louis Mandt, and the difference between Stewart’s Original and their imitators. They increased their visibility by branching out in to neighboring communities. And almost simultaneously, many of the “Generic Stewart’s” began to change their names or shut down altogether. At one time there were at least eight of these within a 40 mile radius of Huntington. Stewart's Original now has several locations - including the original stand from the 1930s.
Most Huntington natives including comedian, Soupy Sales, favor Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs. That goes for the rest of the Tri-State area as well. At some point after Marshall University opened their new football stadium Downtown in 1991, it was outfitted with a private concessions company, Marriott Corp. - who had their own hot dogs – complete with a tasteless Stewart’s Original knock-off sauce. Stewart's Original had been a fixture at Marshall sporting events for a long time and fans protested. The Marriott dogs...well, they sucked quite frankly, and Marshall fans eventually got their wish. But for a little while they were in "Hot Dog Hell." Most people ate something else or got a hand-stamp and left at half-time to visit nearby McDonald's or Wendy’s. www.stewartshotdogs.com
Smith’s Midway Drive-In, now owned by Jeff A. Smith, was established by Strobe Fullwiller in 1939, and began by selling hot dogs, popcorn and root beer. It was Smith’s mother, Evelene, hired in 1945 by Fullwiller, who originated the recipes for the hot dog sauce and barbeque sandwiches. Even though the sauce is a little different in appearance and sweeter than Stewart’s Original, I can’t help but think Evelene Smith was at least inspired by it! But let’s be honest, Smith’s Midway Drive-In is not really famous for their hot dogs, although they are delicious. Instead, the restaurant’s claims to fame are their milkshakes and “made-fresh” hamburgers with generous slices of pickles, tomato and onion (introduced in 1956 by Smith B. Hart, who was leasing the restaurant at the time). Jeff A. Smith and his family bought and re-modeled the business in 1989.
Sam's Hot Dog Stand was founded by Frank Lucent, who opened his first shop on Fourth Avenue in Downtown Huntington in 1983. Unlike the other Huntington-area stands, Stewart’s Original does not inspire the sauce on Sam’s Hot Dogs. Instead, the story goes that Lucent often visited Chick’s Confectionery when he returned home to Fairmont, WV from graduate school at Marshall University in Huntington. He would buy a dozen hot-dogs and freeze them and take them back to school. He decided to open his own shop in Huntington after going through this ritual for several years. Lucent asked the owner of Chick’s Confectionery if he could have his chili recipe, but was denied. The owner said he would take the recipe “to the grave!”
Sam's Hot Dog Stand
Eventually, Lucent located the recipe’s originator, an elderly woman who had been making the sauce and selling it at her church bazaar. She said the owner of Chick’s had altered the recipe slightly over the years but gladly gave Lucent the original. Together with Rocco Muriale, owner of Rocco’s Ristorante, he created the sauce that would become legendary. After operating for a few years, Muriale took sole ownership of Rocco’s Ristorante, and Lucent took sole ownership of Sam’s Hot Dog Stand. Later he decided to sell franchises, and today there are 25 locations in four states (West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia), including 18 in the immediate Tri-State area. All service is walk-up and drive-thru. Some locations have tables. Soda is served in cans. Great hot-dogs! But not quite as fun as the drive-ins.
Bowincal is a small regional chain famous for their foot-longs They've had one location Downtown for about 20 years. It has a dining area but no drive-in or drive-thru. No one knows for sure, but their sauce looks and tastes like another Stewart’s Original knock-off.
Farley's Famous Hot Dogs (formerly "Generic Stewart's") is owned by Buckey Farley, whose grandfather opened the original location in 1968 in Barboursville, WV (3 miles from Huntington). Later they added another stand in Milton, WV (10 miles from Huntington) and third in Hurricane, WV (about 20 miles from Huntington). All three are still operating. Even though we always called them “Generic Stewart’s,” we never stopped going there. The hot dogs were just too good.
Farley’s grandmother created the sauce and it’s still made the same way today. The Farleys ended their long affiliation with the Stewart's Root Beer Co. in the 1990s, when the company stopped brewing root beer by hand. They now make their own syrup and brew it fresh.
Frosty Mug of Chesapeake, OH is right across the river from Downtown Huntington was formerly a "Generic Stewart's" and was recently sold. Watch for updates.
Most of these establishments share two common things, absolutely essential to a TRUE Huntington-style hot-dog: they all use Heiner's Buns (Heiner’s Bakery), and Cavalier Wieners (S.S. Logan Packing Co.), both Huntington based companies.
(Far left ) Heiner's bread on conveyor belt can be seen in window moving left to right.
(Left) Heiner's truck backing into maintenance area. The whole complex occupies an entire square city block.
UPDATE 07/05 :
Many thanks to John Salvatore for updates. 07-05
UPDATE 08/05 : I grew up a couple blocks from Midway Hotdog Stand, we just called it "the hot dog stand" and everyone knew which one we meant. I lived on West Fifth Ave and if you had a upset stomach you went to the hotdog stand for a mug of root beer (without the flavor of root beer) and it always worked. With a quarter you could buy a root beer and a hotdog in the 1940's, and were they great! Many thanks to Ramona Lee Nestor Zentefis for update. 08-05
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