Torn-Down Tuesday: Deco Refreshment Stands, 1924

       By Steve Cichon

For more than 60 years Deco was a name Buffalonians relied upon for quick inexpensive food and what they billed as “Buffalo’s best cup of coffee.”


Toward the close of World War I, Gregory Deck opened one of Buffalo’s first hot dog stands with $6.50 and an old kitchen table from his mother’s attic. By the close of World War II, there were 35 Deco Restaurants in Buffalo and the chain had become a relied-upon pit stop fueling Western New York’s “Rosie the Riveters” and other war production workers.

One early profile called Deck “the King of the hot dog fad.” When he opened that first dog parlor to help pay for college in 1918, hot dog stands were seen as a momentary trend, fueled by millions of people who—thanks to Henry Ford– now had cars for the first time and needed someplace cheap to go.

Deco had 7 locations in 1924.

Six years into the hot dog business, Deco had seven locations around Buffalo plus a central distribution warehouse and office. A 1924 profile in the Buffalo Times captured some of the excitement the city had over Deco.

“From a little soft drink and sandwich booth established by college boys has grown one of the most popular and most extensively patronized systems of refreshment stands to be found in any city in the country. Reference, of course, is made to the ‘Deco’ stands.”

Unlike many of Deco’s competitors, which crept up alongside the road with little concern for health or sanitation, Deco’s countermen wore bright white uniforms in sanitary porcelain-walled shacks, which also featured electric lights and modern refrigeration.

One of the early selling points of the Deco hot dog was that it was never touched by human hands. Neither through the cooking process or when being handed to a customer—which was always done on a white napkin.

“White, clean, unique, these ‘Deco’ stands are located in all parts of the city,” the Times read in 1924, “and their situation is known to practically every motorist in the community. It has been well said that you can always tell a ‘Deco’ stand because it is clean and because it is busy. ‘Deco’ stands cater especially to motorists, and a group of cars from Pierces and Rolls Royces down to Fords is always found clustered about any or all of the seven stands in Buffalo.”

After spending much of the 1920s buying out competitors and building new stores, there were nearly 50 Deco locations just before The Great Depression ate away – but didn’t shatter – the business.

When the sandwich and coffee trade picked up as World War II approached, the old stands began giving way to small counter and booth service Deco restaurants. There were 37 Deco locations when the family sold the business to SportService in 1961. The last Deco Restaurant closed in 1979.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.