Worth the drive: Chris’ Famous Hotdogs
By Lori Quiller
Celebrating 100 years of hot dogs in Montgomery
Nestled at the bottom of Dexter Avenue in Montgomery just a few blocks from the steps of the Capitol sits one of the city’s most beloved lunch spots. Tucked away under a green and white awning is Chris’ Famous Hot Dogs, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
When you walk into the restaurant, the rich smells of spicy chili and French fries fill the air. Hanging on the walls are photos from the restaurant’s 100-year history, including some original menus, mementos, souvenirs and even some knickknacks donated by loyal patrons.
“People ask my dad what’s the secret to being in business for so long,” explained Gus Katechis, who runs Chris’ with his father, Theo. “That’s pretty easy. You just have to be here. You don’t get to take a lot of vacations.”
The restaurant was opened on May 1, 1917, by his uncle and grandfather, Chris, under the name Post Office Café & Fruit Stand because it was next door to the city’s post office, says Gus. So, why would immigrants from Greece want to open a hot dog restaurant?
“My grandfather, Chris, was so proud when he came over from Greece and became an American citizen,” Gus says. “He never thought of himself as a Greek-American. He was proud to be an American, and he wanted his restaurant to be part of American culture. The hot dog is straight-up American food.”
Chris hit on something special with his hot dogs, and when he added his special chili sauce, he had a winner. Today, Theo makes about 10 gallons every other day – but don’t ask for the recipe. Only a few people know that.
Being located on Dexter Avenue has allowed the restaurant and its patrons a front-row seat to much of Montgomery’s rich history. From the birth of the civil rights movement with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks to its many famous patrons who stopped by, such as Clark Gable, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Stewart, Hank Williams and Tallulah Bankhead, to Presidents Harry Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Every Alabama governor has made a stop at Chris’, which is conveniently located between the State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion. But one governor had a hand in saving the day when hot dogs were in short supply.
A governor to the rescue
According to Gus, in the restaurant’s 100-year history, there have only been a couple of times when the store almost ran out of hot dogs. The local company that Chris’ used to get their hot dogs from had a trucking strike. The strike lasted long enough that the company eventually closed.
“Gov. George Wallace sent the Air National Guard to Chicago to get our hot dogs, no lie,” Gus laughs. “That would never happen today, but back in the day? There was one other time we almost ran out of hot dogs, too. Years ago someone posted on a blog that we were going out of business. Of course we weren’t, but our phone rang off the hook for months!”
That was when Gus and his father, Theo, realized they needed to adapt themselves. Patrons can find them online at www.chrishotdogs.com, as well as on Facebook. But, the Katechis family still believes in the power of civic relationships and being there for the people who have been there for them for so long. You’d be hard pressed to find a large event in Alabama that doesn’t serve a Chris’ Famous Hot Dog.
In fact, the largest hot dog order so far was for the USS Montgomery on Sept. 16, 2016, in Mobile. Gus said it took six people about four hours to produce 2,500 hot dogs. Back in Montgomery, Theo was heading out the door with a couple dozen dogs for the grand opening of a new furniture store across town.
“It’s all about community,” Gus says. “And, this is home.”
Chris’ Famous Hot Dogs
138 Dexter Ave. Montgomery, AL 36104
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday
10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday
10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday