Sammons Hotdog was an Elizabethton icon

Published 12:01 pm Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Our View

Most old-timers remember the first Sammons hotdog they bought. It was purchased at a tiny “hole-in-the-wall” on Elk Avenue where the Sammons family operated a news stand. The frankfurter in a bun was smothered with mustard, chili, and onions, and slaw or kraut, if you liked it that way. On Saturdays, lines would form on the street in front of the news stand as customers waited to get a hotdog.
You don’t need to think back far, because a Sammons hotdog has always been the same and it never changed. Everything else in American culture retools every few years without fail, but somehow, against all odds, the Sammons hotdog just kept keeping on, that is until Saturday, Aug. 13, when the family decided to close its restaurant located on the west side of town. Sammons Hotdogs had been around for 66 years — since 1950, withstanding the surging forces of change since Harry Truman was president.
When Doran Sammons began making his hotdogs, the great depression was becoming a faint memory and families were moving closer to town. Kids watched Howdy Doody on 12-inch black and white TV sets and spent Saturday mornings watching movie serials at the Bonnie Kate, the Ritz or other theaters in town. Times were gentler with little violence and the consumer revolution was about to start in a big way. The median family income was $3,300 a year and milk was still delivered to the doorstep.
The Big Mac didn’t yet exist, nor did the Happy Meal, unless you call a hotdog from Sammons a “happy meal.” In recent years its drive through or picnic table dining only, made great sliders, real lemonade, kraut dogs, peanut butter milkshakes and sold them at low prices.
Doran Sammons began the family hotdog business in a store that had been built in front of a wood-framed house that stood a few feet off Elk Avenue. The front porch of the house was actually part of the inside of the store. Originally, the business was a fruit stand and a news stand. He also sold fishing tackle and various toys and hobby items.
The story is that Sammons during the summer of 1950 visited a local drugstore on Elk Avenue to buy a hotdog. He placed his order and after a long wait, was delivered a cold hotdog. It was then and there he decided it was time to make his own hotdogs and sell them. He converted a small room on the left side of his business into a kitchen, knocked a hole in the storefront, and made a window through which to serve customers. Thus, Sammons Hotdogs was born. The room had one small burner where the hotdogs were cooked. A piece of chicken wire was placed over the boiling water pot which steamed the buns. The price of a hotdog was only 10 cents.
Sammons Hotdogs was almost an instant success. His first year in business, Doran Sammons sold over 180,000 hotdogs, many of them on Saturdays, the biggest sales day of the week.
Doran Sammons operated the business for 28 years, before retiring in 1978. However, after only a few months of retirement, Sammons re-opened his hotdog business in a small building shaped like a wagon — first in Johnson City, and later relocating back to Elizabethton on W. Elk Avenue. Later, a second store was added on the 19-E Bypass near the Betsytown Shopping Center. The business continued to be operated by the Sammons family until Saturday, Aug. 13, when Doran Sammons’ granddaughter, Denise, decided to call it quits.
She hopes that someone will buy the business and reopen it. “It was still a thriving business when we decided to close it,” she said.
Sammons Hotdogs was one of Elizabethton’s most reputable and successful businesses. It was homegrown and its values, like its recipe for good hotdogs, never changed. It represented a man’s dream, his drive for success, his willingness to work hard, and provide a quality product at an affordable price.
Elizabethton continues to change and as it does, the business world changes. However, the closing of Sammons Hotdogs is a real loss. Sammons Hotdogs was not only an Elizabethton icon, it was a special place. It’s been around for so long, and there was something comforting about that. But time wears away at people and institutions.
Given the restaurant’s longevity, its closing will be deeply felt and hard to absorb — another piece of Elizabethton’s history lost to time.

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