“I really miss the Hot Dog Shop --- a day doesn't go by when I [do not] think about it and hope that it's only a dream and that soon I'll wake up. I always thought the Hot Dog Shop would be here forever.” Anonymous, 2005.
The connection between Butler and its Hot Dog Shop was about more than just food; it was about its customers – “the best people in the world” – and the relationships they created. The Hot Dog Shop was the catalyst for these relationships.
The hot dog, introduced in the late 19th century, was America’s first mass-produced fast food. Customers could enjoy a cheap, high-calorie meal while taking part in public functions such as fairs.
Convenience and mobility were important. Originally, hot dog "shops" were stands and carts located in urban areas where they became associated with baseball. As hot dogs gained popularity, more permanent establishments opened. Butler's Hot Dog Shop is one such example.
Butler’s Hot Dog Shop was welcoming and accessible, and that made it successful. The shop was opened by Greek immigrant Anthony Klutinoty in 1912. Just as today, food businesses were relatively easy ways for new immigrants to establish themselves within their communities.
His new shop was “little more than a small hallway with a few stools, a hot plate, and a shoeshine stand.” Although the setting evolved during the following century, at least one feature – its accessibility – remained. “It was...never intimidating. Anyone could go there and feel comfortable," one customer recounted. Over the next few years, Klutinoty witnessed his business become a popular spot for locals to meet, greet, and create memories. Eventually, his son and grandson succeeded him and expanded the business. The family ended up creating a lasting legacy that survived nearly 100 years.
Klutinoty's gift to Butler – and perhaps the Shop’s most memorable product – was his sauce. Former customers often recall and try to replicate its tangy appeal. Greek immmigrants are generally credited for introducing the "chili dog" to the American palate - an innovation born from combining the popular hot dog with variations on saltsa kima, their homeland’s spicy meat sauce. Klutinoty's recipe likely included chili powder, paprika, ketchup, and onions – among other ingredients. The sauce is important because it hooked customers during the business’s first years. This “hook” gave customers reason to revisit and become familiar with the shop and its people.
Although the sauce left a lasting impression, social interaction was the Shop’s defining characteristic. One patron put it best: “The chili sauce recipe might have been preserved, but that rich history can't be duplicated.” After being remodeled in 1946, the Shop experienced a boost in popularity. Several changes included modern ranges and ovens, seating for 140 people, and air conditioning. The ensuing decade would be the Shop's most popular. Lunchtime, in particular, brought droves of high school students and workers from nearby businesses. Former patrons specifically remember the “waitress with the ‘painted eyebrows’ who would shriek 'two hots…two hots…pickles on the side!'” in an effort to be heard over the booming shop.The Shop became so congested that Jimmy Klutinoty called “tables in a minute” to continue the flow of customers and maximize profit. This success reinforced the Shop’s place in the community.
The Shop became a staple within Butler. “You’ll get all types in here,” said Jimmy Klutinoty, grandson of Anthony, in 1996. “We got the lawyers from the county courthouse…as well as the fellows who are on trial and the police who arrested them." The lunch counter setup of the shop also contributed to its sense of community much more than the modern, impersonal fast-food setting. Customers would be side by side, three-and four-deep at the counter. This type of space offered lots of opportunities for interaction, conversation, and new friendships
Due to Butler's economic struggles and the expansion of fast food competition in the 1980s and 1990s, the Hot Dog Shop, like many Main Street businesses, struggled to stay afloat in the 21st century. After the Shop closed in 2004, many former customers felt a deep sense of loss. Tangy sauce and cheap prices hooked customers; close interactions connected the community; memorable service and ownership cultivated familiarity and identity. For “Butlerites,” the Hot Dog Shop was the spot to create relationships, community, and meaningful memories