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GOOD EATS: Stewart's ranks high in historical Huntington fare

Feb. 04, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- A frequent sight among tailgating parties and community events, Stewart's Original Hot Dogs is almost as much a recognizable part of Huntington as Marshall University.

Their dogs have been served at Marshall sporting events for more than 20 years.

A venerable mainstay among Huntington's fast food restaurants, the drive-in first opened its doors in 1932 after founder John Louis Mandt struck a deal with Frank Stewart to sell his famous root beer in Huntington. A year after opening, hot dogs were added to the menu, and they quickly became a best-seller, due at least in part to Gertrude Mandt's secret chili sauce recipe.

Today, many of the drive-in restaurant's recipes remain unchanged. John Mandt Jr. is the president and fourth-generation owner of the franchise. Mandt was also a key figure along with Clear Channel Radio's Kym Blake in organizing the annual West Virginia Hot Dog Festival.

"We have made our name solely on the quality of our hot dogs," Mandt said. "We have grown our business from just doing hot dogs to also doing hamburgers, beef/pork barbecue and chili cheese fries just to name a few."

One new addition to the menu was made last fall.

"I special-ordered some bratwursts for Oktoberfest, and people asked that we add them to the menu full time," Mandt said. "For the longest time, you couldn't find a good bratwurst around here. I had been looking for a bratwurst for some time, but it took me awhile to find one with just the right spice and casing."

The drive-in restaurants feature some cheaper eats. Today the classic "Original" hot dog costs $1.50. Customers can also enjoy a slaw dog for $1.65 or a chili cheese dog for $1.70. The new bratwurst, topped with sauerkraut and spicy mustard, sells for $1.69. Customers can also enjoy a cheeseburger for $2.55 or a barbecue sandwich for $3.09. Ice cream is also a favorite, with a root beer (or orange cream) float selling for $2.79.

Customers looking to throw a Super Bowl party can order at "Diggity Dog Pack" for $18.99 featuring 12 hot dogs and a gallon of soda. Larger orders and catering options are also available.

One subtle difference that patrons of West Virginia drive-ins might notice is that unlike most hot dog stands, Stewart's places its toppings under the dogs rather than on top of them. John Mandt Jr. claims this is for neatness and efficiency.

"We have an assembly line where when the order comes in, we open the bun, place the condiments there, add the weenie and then wrap it up in a napkin," he said. "If you place everything on top before you wrap it you have a messy hot dog. We make everything fresh as you come in. Our hamburgers don't hit the grill until you walk in and order it."

The family-owned chain can ship their hot dogs to almost any part of the world. The practice started in 2002.

"It all started when we had an alumni group in Florida that wanted some hot dogs for a party in Tampa for a 1-AA playoff game," Mandt said. "I went through a lot of trial and error in figuring out how to ship them. Eventually I found the right size shipping container."

What began as a service to a small group has now become a popular service.

"Today we've had over 3,000 orders," he said. "We've shipped hot dogs to all 50 states as well as Iraq, Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia and South Korea."

The customers range from military servicemen serving tours of duty, to former Marshall alumni, to Huntington expatriates living overseas.

Stewart's Hot Dogs original location is at 2445 5th Ave. in downtown Huntington. It is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Sundays. Cash and all major credit cards are accepted, no checks are taken at this time.

For information including catering options and memorabilia, call 304-529-3647.

Stewart's Hotdogs

TYPE OF FOOD: Hot dogs and other drive-in fare

ADDRESS: 2445 5th Ave. Huntington

PHONE NUMBER: 304-529-3647

PAYMENTS ACCEPTED: Cash, credit/debit (no check)

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.

WEB SITE: www.stewartshotdogs.com

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