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    Chris’ Hot Dogs turned 100 years old on May 1; the milestone birthday marks a century of tasty business in downtown Montgomery. 
    If you ask Costas “Gus” Katechis, current owner of Chris’ Hot Dogs and grandson of its founder, how many hot dogs the restaurant sells in a day, he’ll tell you, “If we had time to count, we wouldn’t be here!” But if you’ve ever visited, especially around lunch, you know they stay busy, so the number is probably up there. And it needs to be, as Gus points out. “We don’t make a lot of money per hot dog, so we have to sell a lot of them just to pay the power bill in our old building,” he joked. 

    They do sell a lot of their now-famous dogs dripping with the “secret sauce,” and they have been since founder Chris Katechis left his home in Greece bound for America at the beginning of the 20th century. Like so many immigrants, he came through Ellis Island before making his way south to the heart of  Dixie and all the way down to Montgomery.

    He got to work in his new hometown quickly, founding Chris’ Hot Dogs in 1917 on a corner of Dexter Avenue downtown. In the beginning, he sold fruit and produce along with hot dogs, but as it became evident that his hot dogs, smothered in a thin, spicy and tangy red chili sauce, were more popular than the produce, he made them the focal point of the restaurant and stopped selling the produce. 

    A century later, Chris’ Hot Dogs is still going strong, and Gus shared his thoughts on why. “We are always paying attention to everything. You can never get complacent,” he said. “Watch out for waste. Ensure there is consistency. And keep the level of customer service high,” he said. “We have good food, but if we didn’t treat people right, that wouldn’t matter. We have many regulars, and we know many of them by name.” 

    Hard work plays a big role too. “It’s like anything. You get out what you put in,” Gus said. “My only day off is Sunday, and, many times, I end up back at Chris’ doing something. You have to stay hands-on.” 

    Gus is more than happy to do just that since he’s carrying on a family legacy. He’s also proud to still be downtown, where it all began. “People always came downtown for us, but now that there’s been a revival, our business has definitely increased,” he said. “I’ve been really impressed with our city government. Our mayor has the right attitude about making downtown a place to be proud of.” 

    And Gus believes the city’s commitment to downtown is reaping benefits that go beyond his business. “I’m 35, and many in my generation left and went to Birmingham or Atlanta or Charlotte,” he said. “But now we are bringing that educated and talented youth back home because there is a vibrant downtown with things to do and more culture. And it’s not just nightlife. There are more options for young families with kids too. That’s how you get and keep people here.” 

    Historic Hot Dogs

    If Chris’ Hot Dogs’ booth-lined walls could talk, they’d have some interesting tales to tell. Hollywood starlets, country music icons, literary luminaries, political power players and even U.S. presidents have made their way to Chris’ and bellied up to the lunch counter or slid onto one of its vinyl bench seats in the last 10 decades. “FDR came through Montgomery on a train many times, both during his campaign and on his way to and from his place in Warm Springs, Ga.,” Gus said. “Every time he did, he’d send porters to get him a box of our hot dogs.” Presidents Harry Truman and Ronald Regan have both stopped by for a dog or two, and George H. Bush got a box to go. 

    “When Elvis played Montgomery in the 1960s, he ordered close to 100 dogs to feed his crew after a show,” Gus said. “One of his guards told my dad he saw the king eat at least seven himself.” 

    Every Alabama governor since Chris’ has been open has treated themself to a meal there. “One of our biggest orders ever came from George Wallace,” Gus said. 

    Tallulah Bankhead mentioned Chris’ dogs as the “thing she missed most about the South” in a national radio interview, and a young 
    Hank Williams ate there often, sitting at the counter and writing song lyrics on napkins. 

    They were no doubt all drawn to the unassuming spot by the secret hot dog sauce, just one component topping Chris’ most-ordered item, a hot dog “all the way.” “The ‘all the way’ has mustard, fresh-chopped onions, kraut and the chili sauce,” Gus said. And what’s in that famous sauce? What’s really behind the slightly sweet, heat-laced kick? “I’ll never tell,” Gus said. “The recipe isn’t even written down anywhere.” 

    The pork-based frank underneath all the accompaniments (the same basic wiener used since Chris’ opened) is just as important, so important that when Chris faced a supply problem and almost ran out of dogs in the 1960s, Governor Wallace sent an Air National Guard airplane to get them from Chicago.

    The devotion that Chris’ Hot Dogs inspires is not limited to its customers; through the years, Chris’ has had a long list of loyal employees too. “We have two servers who’ve been with us 40 years. A lady named Miss Lucy made our sauce for us for 65 years,” Gus said. “My granddad worked until three months before he died at 92 years old, and my dad, Theo, has always been here, running things after his dad.” Now Gus is keeping the tradition alive, modernizing operations some, but leaving the key things alone, including the sauce. “It’s what we’re known for, and it’s been the same for almost 100 years. We’re not messing with that!” he said. 

    Fans for Decades
    Fans that frequented Chris’ for a regular dose of hot dog goodness.

     ate there often, sitting at the counter and writing song lyrics on napkins. 
    GEORGE WALLACE ordered 2,000 hot dogs once. The biggest order, for the USS Montgomery commissioning was 2,600 hot dogs. 
    A FEW (more) FAMOUS CUSTOMERS: Get in the radius of Montgomery and you too run the risk of being charmed by Chris’ delish dogs, like these folks: 
    Martin Luther King, Jr.; Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Presley and every Alabama Governor since 1917. 

    Standing the TEST OF TIME

    The Montgomery area has a long list of businesses and organizations that have been operating for decades, a few for more than 150 years, and many more that have hit 100-plus years. 

    More than 150 Years: 
    First Baptist Church 1829 
    Saint John’s Episcopal Church 1834 
    Norfolk Southern Corporation 1840 
    New York Life Insurance 1841 
    Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company 1857 

    100+ GOING STRONGMore than 100 Years: 
    YMCA of Greater Montgomery 1868 
    Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce 1872 
    Water Works & Sanitary Sewer Board 1874 
    Medical Society of Montgomery County 1878 
    J. M. Garrett & Son, LLC 1888 
    AT&T Alabama 1890 
    Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association, Inc. 1890 
    American Red Cross of Central Alabama 1891 
    Belk 1891 
    Rushton, Stakely, Johnston & Garrett, P.A. 1891 
    Frazer United Methodist Church 1893 
    Moore Company Realty 1894 
    Medical Association of the State of Alabama 1896 
    Alabama Power Company 1900 
    White Chapel/Greenwood Serenity Funeral Home & Cemetery 1901 
    Baptist Medical Center South 1902 
    Acme Brick Tile & Stone Granite & Limestone Plant 1905 
    Capitol Hill Healthcare & Rehab First 1905 
    Hatton-Brown Publishers, Inc. 1905 
    Whitfield Foods 1906 
    Dixie Electric Company 1908 
    Haigler Auto Service 1908 
    Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama Inc. 1912 
    Brantwood Children’s Home 1917 

    If you’re celebrating a milestone or major anniversary, let us know. Send info to jminiard@montgomerychamber.com. 

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