Buffalo in the ’50s: Jackie Gleason eats at Ted’s dogs

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When “The Great One” rolled up to Ted’s Jumbo Red Hots on Sheridan Drive on March 10, 1955 – 62 years ago today – he was one of America’s biggest TV stars.

Buffalo Courier-Express headline, 1952. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“The Honeymooners” didn’t debut as its own show until later that year, but Ralph, Alice, Norton and Trixie were stars of the most popular sketch on “The Jackie Gleason Show” – which was America’s second most watched TV show right behind “I Love Lucy.”

Apparently on the way to Niagara Falls, Gleason’s bright-red custom car, with license plate “10-JG,” pulled into Ted’s around 2 p.m. A man got out of the car and ordered “a tray filled with pizza and hot dogs,” which he took back to the car while Gleason and two women waited back in the car.

At least 20 people saw the TV star sitting in his car, but he never got out or talked to anyone there in the 20 minutes they were eating while parked there.

Ted’s has been in the same location on Sheridan Drive since 1948.

An ad for Ted’s from 1957. (Buffalo Stories archives)

A 1969 obituary described Theodore S. Liaros as “an early 20th century Greek immigrant who built a pushcart business into a citywide chain of park concessions.”

Until a stroke at the age of 78, Liaros had spent most of 57 years working 16-hour days, slinging popcorn and peanuts first from a wagon, then starting in 1927, hot dogs, loganberry and even pizza from a small shack that had been abandoned by construction workers after the completion of the Peace Bridge.

Even with the Peace Bridge stand operating, Ted’s lunch wagon was still a familiar presence at the Clinton-Bailey Market until the Sheridan Drive location opened.

Liaros’ death on Oct. 24, 1969, came only weeks after that original stand at the foot of Massachusetts Street near Niagara Street was bulldozed on Sept. 15 to make way for an improved I-190/Niagara Street interchange.

In 1957, the Liaros family built another stand near the Peace Bridge in Front Park near Porter Avenue, and occupied it through the early 1970s, when they built another restaurant on Porter Avenue.

Ted Liaros worked 16-hour days for 57 years.

But even though the TV stars visited Tonawanda and the Front Park shop was successful, the namesake of Buffalo’s favorite dog stand always loved that first wayward shack where he spent hundreds of thousands of hours during six decades.

“It was the place my father really had his heart in all these years,” Ted’s son Spiro Liaros said upon his father’s passing and the tearing down of the original Ted’s.

The original Ted’s was torn down to make way for easier highway access to the Peace Bridge in 1969.

The Liaros family still operates Ted’s.

Buffalo’s love affair with the hot dog

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

There are few things we consider more American — and relish with more Buffalove — than the hot dog, especially on a nice summer afternoon. But that wasn’t always the case.

Ted's, with Peace Bridge railing overhead. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Ted’s, with Peace Bridge railing overhead. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Around the same time Ted Liaros was opening his first red hot shack under the Peace Bridge, Mayor Frank X. Schwab was working to rid Buffalo’s streets of what he saw as the great wiener menace.

Schwab, Buffalo’s brewer mayor — who was convicted of violating Prohibition laws while in office — thought beer was OK, but the frankfurter should be banished. In 1922, he fought for and won the right to license and regulate the city’s growing number of hot dog stands with the notion to close them down, threatening to “arrest any hot dog merchant who held forth in the streets.”

It wasn’t the hot dog itself as much as the apparent willingness of hucksters to set up almost anywhere without regard to surroundings or sanitation.

A few years later, state leaders declared Buffalo’s roadside hot dogs stands “a menace to public health,” especially with regards to the keeping and selling of milk products without any proper way to stop spoilage. Dr. Edward Clark of the state health department called the red hot emporium “an institution which must be brought under special state control.”

One vendor on South Division Street was proud of his stand, and bragging of cleanliness with each patron’s “loaf of bread, hunk of meat, and smear of mustard.” The crackdown was welcomed by the owners of clean stands. “Every effort is made,” said another frankfurter hut owner, “to keep the quality of the rolls and the wieners.”

Buffalo and hot dogs were a natural marriage. For decades, Buffalo had been one of America’s leading meat packing cities, and many of the great names in meat processing have been great names in the fight to fill Buffalo’s hot dog buns.

 

At one point, the Dold name was tops with “wiener sausage.” The Jacob Dold Packing Company was Buffalo’s largest at the turn of the century, even having a display at the Pan-Am Exposition showcasing “the art of curing meats.” Dold sold out to Hygrade in 1938.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

Frank Wardynski came to Buffalo from Poland in 1915, and soon after started running a butcher shop on Peckham Street in the shadow of St. Stanislaus Church in the heart of Polonia. In 1979, Wardy’s turning out three million pounds of sausage a year. Today, the company is run by third generation ownership, which also bought the rights to use the name Shelly Meats. The cold cuts and sausages of A. Szelagowski & Sons were Buffalo’s favorite for decades.

meat002

Shelly Meats, 1983 (Buffalo News atchives)

Coming to Buffalo in the same wave of Polish immigration that brought rival Wardynski here, Joseph Malecki was a butcher in Opatowek, Poland, when he came to Buffalo in 1914. His children, Ronald and Virginia, were selling $2 million of Malecki’s Polka Brand Sausages by 1963. After 73 years of East Side sausage making, Malecki Meats closed its doors in 1988, leaving many lovers of their links heartbroken.

Maleckis---Grandmas-Choice-

Buffalo Stories archives

As the word of Malecki’s demise spread, countless Western New Yorkers made a trek to Ted’s for one last dog.

Malecki baloney. (Buffalo News archives)

Malecki baloney. (Buffalo News archives)

“This is a big shock to me and to all of us who work here,” Ted’s manager Marc Candino told The News days before the Malecki dogs dried up. “We’re still using Malecki. We expect our last shipment Monday, which means you can only get a Malecki dog here until Tuesday… with maybe a couple left over for Wednesday.”

Ted's served Malecki's hot dogs until the day the Malecki plant closed down in 1988. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Ted’s served Malecki’s hot dogs until the day the Malecki plant closed down in 1988. (Buffalo Stories archives)

 

Ted’s now serves what is the undisputed king of hot dogs in Western New York, direct from the Sahlen’s smokehouse. The Sahlen family has been processing meat and meat products for Buffalonians since 1869, and has been selling hot dogs since they started to be popular around the turn of the century.

Inspecting a Sahlen smokehouse hot dog, 1977. (Buffalo News archives)

Inspecting a Sahlen’s smokehouse hot dog, 1977. (Buffalo News archives)

In 1994, Sahlen’s was bringing in $17 million in sales — about 60 percent of which was in wieners. They were cranking out about 40 million hot dogs a year, good for 70 percent of the Buffalo hot dog market.

“Sahlen’s has always been Buffalo’s hot dog, and will always be, in my opinion,” Mark Battistoni, sales manager of Sahlen Packing Co. told The News in 2012. “We have a (143)-year history and commitment to the community.”

 

Buffalo in the 50’s: Ted’s Charcoal broiled Red Hots, Sheridan Drive

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

teds

Who feels like cooking in this heat… Let’s go to Teds! Sheridan Drive, late 40s, early 50s.

Give me a well done (aka burnt) loaded footlong with a toasted roll and a loganberry.

And when asked, “Fries or rings?,” the only worthy answer is both.