When is a hot dog joint not just a hot dog joint? When it’s been around for almost a century, holding itself steady through all the fads in dining and diets over the past 90-plus years. When its sauce is eaten around the world, either carried like precious cargo in someone’s luggage, or very carefully mailed. When people stop in for a dog after getting off the Thruway — but before going home to their families. When it’s the one place a person who moved away must go when they come home to visit. When it is your favorite place to take far-away friends when they first come to see your town, and becomes their favorite place for all subsequent visits. One said to me, “I never had someone try to impress me with a hot dog joint before. But it’s impressive.” These friends will mention, every single time, how sparkling clean and bright it is.
It’s more than a hot dog joint when one of your few pleasant memories of your dad is the first time he ever took you there. When one of your most mortifying memories is decades later, when your sister tells the guy behind the counter that you think he’s cute, but you’re nine months pregnant and can only hurry out, embarrassed as you’ve ever been.
I got to meet that man last week. His name is Evan Pappas, and with his cousin, Freddy, and Freddy’s brother-in-law, Nick Maritsas now running the family business, a few changes at Dallas Hot Wieners are to be noted.
There are now five locations. (My son thinks they should become a national chain, or at least open a location in New York City. He’s certain they would have lines around the block. I agree.) Next year marks the 92nd anniversary of the flagship Uptown Kingston location, and because of its size, things on North Front are much the same as they have always been. Other locations offer gyros, chicken souvlaki and homemade soup. They all feature homemade baklava, which you should be sure to try.
I’m a traditionalist, and prior to meeting Evan, I had never ordered anything but a Dallas Hot Wiener, just the sauce (Except at breakfast. Did you know they have breakfast? Their western sandwich really hits the spot. Or try a veggie omelet, if you’d rather.) I tried a grilled cheese that day, and it was just like Mommy used to make — crispy outside, soft inside, and a normal amount of cheese, not the half cup of it I usually need to scrape away if I get one anywhere besides home. In other words, it was perfect.
As for their shakes, well, we can debate this all day long — but their chocolate shake is made with chocolate ice cream and chocolate milk, and decimates those made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.
I asked Evan if he had always worked there, and he said no. He was working elsewhere, and when he was 21 his father had a heart attack and he decided to help out. I asked if he ever felt like George Bailey, giving up his dreams to work in the family business. “No,” he answered. “It’s been very good to me. Do I ever wonder? Everybody does. But regrets? No.”
They also work to balance quality of life with business sense, both for themselves and their employees. That’s why most locations are closed on Sundays, why all their locations close by 8 p.m. “We want to enjoy our lives, too, and we want the same for our employees,” he said.
I was relieved to learn they own the building they are housed in, with all the sales in Kingston recently. Evan is aware of the squeeze. “With buildings selling, the rents going up, bastions of our lives being forced out — here, family is still our core.”
I can testify to this as well. Years ago, when my son was little, we walked in and sat down. Then I remembered they didn’t take cards or checks. Yota, Evan’s mom, recognized me as a long-time customer and told me to go ahead and eat, and worry about it next time, which we did, and I have been forever grateful.
Stopping in the Broadway location I met Nick, who is as cheery as Evan, and a regular customer, who very charmingly regaled me with stories of newspapers and political views. “We treat all customers the same — doctors, lawyers, homeless people. Everybody’s got a story.”
I asked Evan if they do civic-minded things — donate, sponsor, that sort of thing. He modestly said that of course they support the community that sustains them. They don’t feel the need to talk about it, but they do give back to many different local organizations.
Next time you’re in Uptown, pondering a brunch in some little dark, artisanal place with a carefully curated mood, instead, really splurge — see what people have known for a century in Kingston. Have a wiener. (Cheese fries optional!) Donate the money you save to a great local cause.