West Virginia Hot Dog Festival draws crowd of food lovers and pooches
HUNTINGTON — Huntington is for the dogs — the hot dogs, of course.
Fans of the all-American food hovered around Pullman Square on Saturday for the 18th annual West Virginia Hot Dog Festival. Around 15 hot dog vendors served wieners to people throughout the day, while activities such as dog races, a car show, inflatable games and hot dog-eating and root beer-chugging contests took place.
McKenzie Lambiotte, of Huntington, and her 5-year-old dog Bella took first place in the Dog Costume Contest. Lambiotte was in hot dog server attire and carried Bella, dressed as a hot dog, in a serving tray. They’ve entered the contest during previous festivals, but Saturday marked their first win.
Lambiotte said the Hot Dog Festival is a fun way to bring the community together.
“There aren’t a lot of events where you can bring your dogs to, so the fact that this is about your dogs and all of the dog lovers out there … I just love it,” she said.
The festival is presented by iHeart Radio. Judy Eaton, the program director for WTCR and promotions director, said that over the years, the festival has raised over $275,000. Initially, the festival supported the pediatric oncology department at Cabell Huntington Hospital, but has since grown to support services and programs at Hoops Family Children’s Hospital.
“We are totally over the moon happy. We’re so happy that we can put on the event again, getting through COVID and everything … The best thing about it is that we get to raise money for Hoops (Family Children’s Hospital),” Eaton said. “It’s for the kids that are over there fighting for their lives, and we’re just out here trying to raise money for them. That’s what it’s all about.”
The West Virginia Hot Dog Festival was on hiatus in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, some activities were not held, such as the hot dog-eating contest. Saturday’s event was back in full force.
Carol Ward, a co-owner of Sam’s Hot Dogs, said to have the festival again was “refreshing.” She said hot dogs are a food for all ages. Kids enjoy them, and they can bring back a feeling of childhood for adults. They are also a fast food that is affordable, delicious and customizable.
“It’s a good turnout this year, and I think that this is going to be one of the biggest ones,” she said. “I’m glad to see all of the little events back and the dogs racing and parading. That’s fun.”
Cory Hutchinson, a co-owner of Midway Drive-In, said the festival is a great event for the city of Huntington, or the “Hot Dog Eating Capital of the World.” Midway has been at the festival for 14 years.
“We’re just really excited to see the turnout and the crowd here, and it’s for a great cause,” he said.
The first West Virginia Hot Dog Festival was held in 2004. John Mandt Jr., the owner of Stewarts Original Hot Dogs and the festival founder, said he created the idea in 2003 as a way to bring the community together around the food and give back to charities.
“This event has grown every year. And it’s just a great family atmosphere, something for kids and adults and local crafts and food. And it’s fun,” Mandt said.
McKenna Horsley is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch, covering local government in Huntington and Cabell County. Follow her on Twitter @Mckennahorsley.