Virginia Mamakos Monolakis of Wheeling was just 10 years old when her mother died in 1936. Her father, Louis Mamakos, remarried and the new family soon totaled six children.
From the time Monolakis could legally work after school and weekends, she headed to her father's business, Louis' Famous Hotdogs in downtown Wheeling. She recalls a "wonderful downtown," bustling with friendly people who became "regulars" at her father's popular restaurant where the hotdog reigned supreme.
"I like to meet people and there were so many who came in every day," Monolakis, now 86, said. "That's when we had Sears in downtown and those people came in every day and got their coffee. Back then we added the cream and sugar so we had to know what our customers liked. We had table service, too."
Photo by Heather Ziegler
Virginia Mamakos Monalakis started working at her father’s hotdog shop in downtown Wheeling when she was old enough to work.
Monolakis worked in the back of the restaurant in the food prep area, but said they had two counters with a waitress at each counter. She said her father came to America from Greece with $5 in his pocket and many aspirations toward the American dream.
"My dad first came to Cincinnati where he met friends and worked two shifts in restaurants. Then he went to barber school but decided that wasn't for him. He took a bus to Pittsburgh looking for ideas."
She said her father went to work rather than to high school. He called his brother, Angelo, in Greece to come over to America so the two could work together. Monolakis said he uncle dressed in disguise as a woman to get to the United States in an effort to avoid the Turkish army. The brothers ended up in Wheeling where there were many other Greek immigrant families.
Louis' Famous Hotdogs was founded in 1919 with the slogan "Once Gotten, Never Forgotten," which is still applicable today.
The business no longer operates in the downtown. It is located in the Elm Terrace Shopping Center and continues to be a family operation by her uncle Pete's son, also named Louie
Monolakis, a resident of Elmhurst-House of Friendship since 2009, said she enjoyed her time working with her father and other family members. She and her husband, Paul, lived in Bethlehem. Paul, who operated the White Front Restaurant in Wheeling, died in 1989.
At Louis' Famous Hotdogs, Monolakis said the lunch hours were hectic but made the days pass quickly.
"We used to start getting busy around 11 a.m. and then it was steady from there," Monolakis said. "We had one woman, Barbara, who made the pies from scratch. She did that for 32 years and everyone loved the pies."
A graduate of Wheeling High School, Monolakis said her father was most proud that all of her brothers and sisters went to college and became successful in their own right.
" I love Wheeling and I wouldn't change a thing about those days," Monolakis added.