Hot Dog Shoppe’s first patrons recalled

It was almost exactly 70 years ago – June of 1946 – when J.R. and Bud, both Harding High School buddies, were looking for their friend, Ralph Costantino. They walked into a little frame building eatery. It was up the hill on West Market Street across from the Hudson garage and next to the West Side Market. It was called the Hot Dog Shoppe.

The place was furnished with old kitchen chairs and tables. There they were greeted by two guys, World War II veterans Paul Trevelline and Ralph Middendorf, co-owners of the little place. And there J.R. and Bud found Ralph Costantino.

So what is so important about this little snapshot? Well, J.R. and Bud were the very first customers of the newly-named Hot Dog Shoppe and Ralph Costantino was the very first employee!

Before it was called the Hot Dog Shoppe, Trevelline and Middendorf tried to make a go of it at the same site selling “knick knacks” and sandwiches, but found that selling hot dogs was the way to go. Not only were the hot dogs the best ever, but they also served root beer or some other soft drink out of huge frosted glass mugs that were pulled out of the refrigerator just before serving. Wonderful!

By the way, I think that the mugs are now made of plastic, are smaller and have a fake frost etched on them. What? They don’t have the mugs anymore? A server just told me the other day that it’s been 15 years since they’ve had the frosted mugs. Oh, well, they’re justified in cutting a few corners to keep prices down.

Trevelline passed away in 2013 at age 89, and former partner Middendorf passed in 2010 at age 80. Trevelline had handed the Hot Dog Shoppe business to his nephews, and the Hot Dog Shoppe thrives to this day on the same site at 740 West Market Street in a modern air-conditioned building designed to handle scores of hot dog lovers at a time.

But what has happened to J.R. and Bud? I don’t think they were ever officially recognized as the Shoppe’s first customers, and it’s about time they were. J.R is Julius Rimar age 85, and Bud was Harold Francis (Bud) Allard – J.R.’s lifetime buddy until he passed away just exactly a year ago at age 84. Bud was a Korean War vet, as was J.R., and was a retired plant manager at Taylor Winfield. And Costantino? He passed last year at age 83. He was also a Korean War vet, graduated from St. Mary’s, and, get this, was the manager of the Hot Dog Shoppe for 45 years!

I knew J.R. from when we were both employed at Packard Electric.

J.R. has a credited 56 years as a Packard employee (about four years was spent in the U.S. Navy), and I spent 27.25 years there, but who’s counting?

J.R.’s time at Packard is close to the record for length of employment there.

J.R. has four sons, George, Jim, John and Don.

All worked at the Hot Dog Shoppe at one time or another, and George related that he had worked there from 1972 to 1979 for about $1.10 per hour.

Hot dogs were 20 to 25 cents each and went up to 30 cents before he ended his employment there.

Back then, it was all guys, but now the servers are all women. Some possibly familiar names of the staff in years past are O’Brien, Neal, Rolfe, Ambrose, Kerns and, of course, Rimar.

I remember that it used to stay open until 1 a.m. and it was a great place to wind up a night out on the town.

Some think it stayed open later than that on weekends.

J.R. is retired now, and has a daily routine of breakfast at Panera Bread and lunch at Cafe 422. He makes his famous stuffed cabbage rolls, hot peppers and lasagna on request. He travels to Naples, Fla., to visit friends.

Can you believe it? I know one of the first two customers of one of Warren’s most revered institutions.

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday.com.