Sammons family passes torch to new restaurant owner

Published 8:53 pm Thursday, November 16, 2017

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Denise Sammons read those words from the Book of Ecclesiastes as she announced during Thursday morning’s Chamber of Commerce breakfast that her “season” with the restaurant founded by her grandfather has come to an end.

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While her time at the helm has ended, the restaurant will continue its legacy in Elizabethton under the leadership of the new owner, Chris Davis.

In making the announcement Thursday morning, Denise Sammons shared some history of the restaurant which bears her family’s name. The Sammons restaurant, which has come to be known for its hot dogs and lemonade over the years, was founded in June of 1950 by Doran S. Sammons, Denise’s grandfather, who owned a toy and hobby shop in downtown Elizabethton.

“He walked down the street one day and waited 30 minutes for a hot dog, and it was served to him on a cold bun,” Denise Sammons said. “He had a concept. He wanted a hot dog that wouldn’t drip all over you, that you could eat on the go, and that was served on a hot steamed bun, which is still our trademark.”

From Doran Sammons’ experience with the cold hot dog and his desire for something better, the restaurant was born. Doran Sammons himself worked to develop, and perfect, a method for steaming the buns which lead to the popularity of their hot dogs.

The restaurant, which was dubbed the “hole in the wall” during its time in downtown, because a popular place for those shopping or working downtown or in nearby factories to grab a bite to eat. On a slow day back then, the restaurant would serve up 80 dozen hot dogs, according to Denise Sammons. A normal day would see sales of 100 dozen and a busy day was 120 dozen hot dogs.

The restaurant later moved to Railroad Street and eventually grew to two locations — one on Highway 19E and the other on West Elk Avenue. Those two locations were consolidated into the West Elk Avenue location in 2015.

While the restaurant has seen continued success over the years, Denise Sammons said she felt it was time for her to step aside.

“God was telling me ‘Your season with Sammons is coming to an end,’” Denise Sammons said. While she didn’t know where God was preparing to lead her, she knew her purpose was no longer at the restaurant. When she sought her father’s advice, he simply told her that when God speaks to you, you should listen.

The restaurant and its brand have been on the market for several years, but Denise Sammons said she didn’t want to sell it to just anyone, it was important to find someone who would carry on the tradition started by her grandfather.

In August 2016, Denise Sammons still had not found the right person and decided to close the restaurant.

“I tried to retire,” she said with a laugh. “We closed for a season, but it was obvious that it wasn’t the right time.”

The outpouring of support from the community led to Denise Sammons reopening the restaurant on Oct. 28, 2016, and the business enjoying what she called “our most successful year in our history in Elizabethton.”

One year after that fated reopening, Denise Sammons is now handing over her family business to its new owner.

During Thursday’s breakfast, Denise Sammons introduced the new owner Chris Davis to other members of the Chamber of Commerce.

“He bought the brand. He bought the recipes,” Denise Sammons said. “He bought everything. It is still the same business.”

After years of looking, she said she felt she had found the right person to take over the restaurant.

“Chris is a hometown boy,” Denise Sammons said. “He knows this community, and that was so important to me.”

Like many others in the area, Davis grew up going to Sammons to get one of the famous hot dogs. He is looking forward to carrying on the legacy of the Sammons family.

“I don’t have any plans to change the core menu,” Davis said. “You might see some new products added to the menu.”