Jr's Hot Dog Stand the longstanding eatery located on Westport's Riverside Ave., isn't expanding its brick and mortar mothership. But it is adding a satellite, in the form of a mobile hot dog truck.
Owner and chief driver Jeff Arciola, 41, who was raised and lives in Westport, is the cousin of original owners Carol and Junior Bieling. They opened the Westport stand, situated on shore of the Saugatuck River, in 1976.
Jeff grew up in a food-oriented environment. He tells of childhood visits to his grandmother's house in Norwalk, which, he recalls, had two kitchens. "I remember pulling up a chair to the counter and making salad dressing in a cup with her," he says.
His degree in culinary arts and food service management went to good use for 11 years when he ran the restaurant at Norwalk's Silvermine Golf Club. He bought Jr's from his parents in 2004 when they retired to Florida. "I updated the interior and the menu and added all sorts of sandwiches, salads and daily specials," he says.
He's putting a new spin on his traditional digs by taking his dogs (and sandwiches) on the road. "I'd always gotten a lot of calls about catering," says Jeff. "And I thought being mobile would be an interesting way to expand the business." His new four-wheeled kitchen will be available for parties and functions, which he thinks will grow the business tremendously. He's also looking forward to meeting "more terrific people" on his asphalt-bound journeys.
But a restaurant on wheels presents its own set of challenges. As far as the monetary ones are concerned, Jeff feels "pretty lucky" the truck's food prep operation runs on propane rather than gas. He's more concerned, he says, with the "continually increasing price of food." He's hoping to find creative ways to keep his costs down so he can continue to offer a reasonably priced menu.
Speaking of menus, Jeff enthusiastically lists a few highlights from his own. "One of my favorites is the Philly cheese steak with the works," he says. He can't help adding, "Or perhaps the pulled pork." He reconsiders again. "Or perhaps the homemade sweet sausage patty..."
Clearly, Jr's Hot Dog Stand the mobile version will satisfy hungry customers hankering for their hometown favorites. The upside is that they won't have to travel far to procure them. What could be better than roving red hots? Life in Westport is about to get dog-gone better.
Have you stopped by Jr's Hot Dog Stand? Are you eager for the stand to stop by your house? Let me know here.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.