After almost a century serving hot dogs slathered in its signature, secret-recipe chili sauce, Louis' Famous Hot Dog left loyal customers shocked and saddened when it abruptly closed its doors for good Wednesday.
The restaurant did not open for breakfast Thursday morning, and a sign simply stating "Closed" was taped to the front door of the establishment's location at the Elm Terrace Shopping Center in Elm Grove. Louis Mamakos, who is the grandson of Louis' Hot Dog founder, has managed the business since 1999. He confirmed the business had closed permanently but said he did not want to comment further.
When the elder Louis Mamakos opened the business in 1919, Woodrow Wilson was president, America still had only 48 states, the National Football League didn't even exist yet - and a hot dog cost just a nickel. The restaurant moved a couple blocks west to Market Plaza in 1969, and to the Elm Terrace Shopping Center in 1981.
File photo by Scott McCloskey
Members of the Mamakos family, from left, Virginia, Louis and Pete prepare to celebrate Louis’ Famous Hot Dog’s 90th anniversary in Wheeling in 2009. With little fanfare, the business closed its doors for good Wednesday.
The chili sauce - the ingredients of which remain a family secret - was created about eight years after the business opened, and helped launch Louis' franks to local fame.
Elm Grove resident Bill O'Leary said after his son called him Thursday afternoon to break the news, he had to drive over to see it for himself.
"It just really upset me. ... I'm going to miss the place, I'll tell you," O'Leary said.
O'Leary has more fond memories of Louis' Hot Dog than he can count. Among the fondest, he said, was meeting and getting his photo taken with former West Virginia University head football coach and New Martinsville native the late Bill Stewart during the restaurant's 90th anniversary celebration in 2009.
O'Leary said he and his wife, Sharon, were regular customers, often eating there at least twice per week - and always on Monday, when they would meet a couple friends for lunch after delivering meals for Catholic Charities. He recalls frequenting Louis' original downtown location when he worked for Sears, and said four generations of his family have been to the restaurant - including in July, when his grandson and his wife brought O'Leary's 5-week-old great-grandson Liam for a visit from their home in Hurricane, W.Va.
Although young Liam won't remember being there or ever experience the taste of a Louis' hot dog, O'Leary said he's especially glad now that he has a photograph to mark the occasion.
Wheeling Councilman Eugene Fahey, who represents the Elm Grove area, said he was out of town and was not aware the business had closed.
"It's certainly sad news. ... I didn't see this coming," said Fahey.
He said it's always disappointing to see a longstanding, reputable business close its doors, and he thanked the Mamakos family for their decades of doing business in Wheeling.
"For a lot of people who left the area, one of the things they really enjoyed when they came back was Louis' hot dogs," said Fahey. "They've truly become a legacy."
Candy Hartley, owner of the Mane Attractions hair salon, was a longtime neighbor of Louis' Hot Dog at the Elm Terrace shopping center. She said the restaurant's lunchtime business seemed strong, and there was no indication Wednesday that anything was amiss.
"It's sad. ... It was a shock to me," said Hartley.