Let’s dispose of all the formalities. The popular national foodie digital publication, The Daily Meal named Gus’s Hot Dogs to its 35 Best Hot Dogs in America list.
We absolutely agree.
But let us get real. This isn’t the first time Gus’s, a beloved downtown Birmingham institution, has received recognition from one of these “best of” social media sites.
Established in 1947, the small hot dog joint (they also sell killer burgers) deserves all the recognition it gets. That’s why I journeyed to Gus’s on Saturday morning to talk to owner Lee Pantazis about what makes Gus’s special.
It’s 10:30am and Gus’s is rocking. While the rest of downtown Birmingham is rolling out of bed, Lee is grilling and his staff is taking orders on the phone. A line is beginning to form at the door where customers prepare their orders. People from all walks of life are dropping in—a bank manager, a family with a toddler and a fellow living on the streets.
Once we got a moment, I asked the energetic and youthful owner why he took over a couple of years ago this legendary Greek family hot dog joint in the heart of the city.
With a smile, Lee said, “I do this because on some level I have enough trouble sleeping and if I don’t do something to give back to this crazy world, I won’t be able to find peace. I love taking care of folks. I love cooking. I love the people I work with. I love our customers.”
Then he got a little philosophical.
“At a certain point some things are holy,” he said.
“A tiny little hot dog stand with history that treats everybody with kindness. That matters in today’s world. When every single thing is politicized, ain’t nothing political about a hot dog. Come in and relax. We are going to take care of you.”
After I ordered the Special Dog, which they called the Greek Dog in The Daily Meal story, I wanted to know what is the secret to Gus’s Hot Dogs’ success.
Lee made a list.
“My success comes down to three things.”
- It’s L.A. He is my grill cook. L.A. is the face of the franchise. Tom Brady. You think of the Patriots. Phillip Rivers, you immediately think of the Chargers. Nick Saban you think of Alabama. When I hear L.A., I think of Gus’s Hot Dogs. I am beyond thankful for him, as a human being, employee, co-worker and as a man, how he treats his family. Tremendous respect for him and proud to work with him. Learn from him.
- Mr. George’s legacy (George Nasiakos, the owner of Gus’s from 1995 to 2017). I have never met a kinder human being in my life. Doesn’t matter if you are a priest, the pope, the president. I’ve never met a kinder, more genuine human being.
- Birmingham’s hot dog culture is second to none. New York may eat more hot dogs. Chicago loves their Chicago dog. But people in Birmingham are rabid about their hot dogs. I’ve got the most loyal customer base in the entire world. I get emails once a week like, “I moved from Bham 10 years ago, I was thinking about your sauce!”
Gus’s Hot Dogs Legacy
When I left Gus’s, I couldn’t wait to bite into the “Special Dog.” It was as good as The Daily Meal advertised. But I must say, during my visit, the publication missed one ingredient in their description of Gus’s.
Owner Lee Pantazis and his staff’s commitment to take care of his customers.
Lee was right. Some things are holy. And a little hot dog stand treating everyone with kindness is one of them.