There’s perhaps nothing more quintessentially American that a good old-fashioned hot dog. In the summertime here in New England, they’re pretty much ubiquitous — be it at a backyard barbeque or a neighborhood eatery.  

But what does it take to serve hot dogs for over a century?  

Brian Sullivan traveled to North Adams and Jack’s Hot Dog Stand to find out how they’ve served up this American classic since 1917!  

This story originally aired on September 24, 2022.  

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: There’s perhaps nothing more quintessentially American than a good old fashioned hot dog. In the summertime here in New England, they’re pretty much ubiquitous, be it a backyard barbecue or a neighborhood eatery.

But what does it take to serve hot dogs for over a century?

Brian Sullivan traveled to North Adams and Jack’s Hot Dogs to find out how they’ve served up this American classic since 1917.

Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: Eagle Street in North Adams has only one way in, with an entrance that looks like something we might see in a history book of what people thought the modern American street would look like heading into the 20th century.

There’s also one business on this historic road that appears as though it’s been here since shovels first hit the ground in this section of downtown. And since 1917, it’s managed to outlive nearly every other local business that’s popped up here, from World War I to present day.

So, how did something as simple as a place that sells hot dogs and hamburgers survive over a century’s worth of economic downturns and catastrophes? Well, the answer is actually quite simple.

Jeff Levanos: We put out our food as cheaply and as efficiently. It’s always fresh, it’s inexpensive, and people we have — we rely on repeat customers. It’s a very simple process.

Brian Sullivan: Twelve seats, a couple of grills, fryolators, lots of dogs, lots of burgers, steamed buns, and lots of locals coming in. That’s been the recipe for success here.

And even though North Adams has trended more artsy and touristy since the late 1990s, Jack’s has always been the townie spot for generations of working class folks raising their families here, whether they’re working at the hospital, the bank, hanging sheetrock, pounding nails, or doing whatever they have to do to maintain a bottom line, this has been their lunch counter.

Jeff Levanos: This is the people you need to take care of. This is the people we cater to. It’s like the cherry on the sundae to have tourists come in.

But, I know January, February, and March…you need your regular customers in here. And those regular customers are your contractors, you know, and everybody you just mentioned

Brian Sullivan: That philosophy of taking care of locals was preached by Jeff’s grandfather, the first generation of this Greek family enterprise. Now, in its fourth generation with Jeff’s son, Joe, in the mix manning the grill.

Apparently, the philosophy works because there are still customers coming in who’ve been here for all four generations.

Gene Kemp, Jack’s Customer: I’ve been coming here for seventy four years. Can you imagine that?

I sat in there, I sat there, and my mother sat next to me. Seventy four years.

Brian Sullivan: And is not just for the townies. If memory serves, they used to let college creeps like me in here, too.

Back when I was in college out here, none of us had cars, so we almost never ventured out beyond our one block radius of campus. But on those rare occasions when we had an extra couple of bucks in our pockets, we would walk a few more blocks to come down here to Jack’s.

It turns out that the couple of bucks I had back in 1995 could still serve me well now, all these years later. In that case, I’ll have a chili Cheeseburger and a double cheese with onions, mustard, and relish.

I did have to wonder, though, for a place that does zero advertising and, aside from the giant hot dog up front, no marketing either, how is it possible to stay afloat with prices that really don’t reflect the current day and age?

Jeff Levanos: Owning the property I’m in, I mean, I don’t have a mortgage. I can keep my prices down. That’s that’s another thing my grandfather always said, you know, if you if you own the property you’re in, you don’t have to pay rent. You don’t have to pay mortgage. You know, you can keep your prices down. He was adamant on keeping the prices down as low as you can.

Make your profit, make your…and he always told me, you’re never going to get rich owning Jack’s, but if you take care of it, it will take care of you.