DATE: Monday, July 28, 1997 TAG: 9707280065 SECTION: LOCAL PAGE: B3 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Column SOURCE: George Tucker LENGTH: 75 lines
Norfolk has every reason to celebrate National Hot Dog Month.
George Bacalis, the colorful entrepreneur of sizzling frankfurters on buns with or without onions, chili or mustard, and who operated the city's oldest hot dog dispensary at 227 City Hall Ave. until his retirement in 1975, is still very much alive and kicking.
Thirteen years before Bacalis was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on July 7, 1917, the first hot dog concession in this country came into being by a twist of fate in 1904 at the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
When a concessionaire there lost business because of burnt fingers, he began lending his customers white cotton gloves. As these had a way of disappearing, he struck up a deal with a baker to provide him with frankfurter-shaped rolls. When he added a dash of mustard to the combination, the hot dog was born.
So much for dry-as-dust history, since Bacalis, now a feisty 80-year-old, is much more fun to write about.
One of the five sons of Nick and Helen Bacalis, both natives of Greece, Bacalis moved to Norfolk with his parents in 1918. When his father opened the hot dog concession on City Hall Avenue in 1934, Bacalis, then a student and star athlete at Maury High School, began helping out behind the counter during his free time.
``My father wanted me to go to college,'' Bacalis said recently. ``But I liked the business too well. So I stayed at home and dished out the hot dogs that made the money to send my other brothers through college.''
From the time he graduated from Maury in 1937 until his retirement, Bacalis was the acknowledged hot dog king of downtown Norfolk, a role that began at 6 a.m. daily and continued until midnight from Monday through Saturday. Arriving at his place of business before dawn, Bacalis began concocting the big batch of chili to be used on hot dogs for that day. While so engaged, his assistants served breakfast to early morning customers. At 10 a.m., however, with the big pot of chili simmering on a back burner, the real business of the day - the dispensing of succulent hot dogs - began in earnest. Bacalis' orders to the cook, delivered in a voice that needed no electronic amplification, were divided into four categories.
``If a customer wanted a couple of undecorated hot dogs, I hollered `two plain,' '' he recalls with a chuckle. ``If he wanted them with mustard I yelled `two just mus.' If he wanted the works, I bellowed `two all the way,' but if he didn't want to go away smelling like an onion patch, I called out `no onyee!' ''
``Those Bacalis hot dogs really snapped,'' Nelson Brown, one of my fellow laborers in the journalistic vineyard recalls droolingly. ``It was the taut skins that made them really special. And when you bit into one you were in for a real snapping dog experience!''
Old-timers will have no trouble recalling the hole in the wall over which Bacalis presided for almost four decades. Even so, all of the accoutrements necessary for turning out hot dogs - a counter, nine stools, a coffee urn, an ice box for soft drinks, a sink for washing dishes and a grill - fitted in like pieces to a tightly constructed puzzle. Winking invitingly from the small front window was the neon sign sporting a sizzling hot dog that is now mounted on the wall of Bacalis's den in his home at 112 Fayton Ave., where he lives with his second wife, Helen.
Now enjoying his well-earned retirement, Bacalis likes to recall the many pleased customers he served over the years. These ranged from bankers, city officials, business men and women from downtown stores and offices to thousands of Uncle Sam's sailors on leave from the Norfolk Naval Station or ships anchored at its piers.
Usually Bacalis' patrons limited their consumption to two ``snapping dogs,'' to use my friend Nelson Brown's apt description. But there was one time when an obviously famished customer arrived with a healthier appetite.
``I'll never forget a sailor who dropped in late one night and came near cleaning me out,'' Bacalis recalls. ``He said he was hungry, and before he finished eating he had stowed away 24 hot dogs with all of the trimmings and four Pepsi Colas!'' ILLUSTRATION: Staff file Photo
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