Walter’s Hot Dogs Turns 85

photos and article by Callie Schweitzer

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(August 26, 2004) “A lot may have changed in town since Walter’s first became popular, but the one thing that hasn’t changed, is the great taste of their hot dogs,” commented Howard McMichael, an avid Walter’s fan and owner of McMichael’s Boatyard in Mamaroneck.

Eighty-five years ago when Walter Warrington first opened his roadside hot dog stand, he would have never imagined that it would be world famous one day. The eatery has been visited by celebrities, it’s been the background of a national DARE commercial, and it has been the second home to Mamaroneck High School students since 1919. Simply put, Walter’s Hot Dogs is an American legend.

Early On: The Secret, The Spot

From the beginning, Walter’s has been known for its unique style of hot dogs. Early on, founder Walter Warrington met with a local meat company to create a secret recipe for what he envisioned would be a very different kind of hot dog in both taste and quality. Walter wanted a dog that wouldn’t shrink, curl, or burn when cooked. Eventually, the “split dog” was created, and Walter developed a secret sauce that is put on the hot dogs before they are grilled. The hot dogs are then served on a toasted bun with Walter’s own homemade mustard. Now, nearly a century later, Walter’s hot dog recipe is patented and protected under trade secret agreements.

Walter’s hasn’t always been on the Palmer side of Mamaroneck High School. In 1919, Walter’s first opened as a small stand, located where the Post Road side of the MHS building currently stands. At that time, Walter’s only sold apple cider and hot dogs. The hot dogs and their “secret recipe” soon became overwhelmingly popular, and the business expanded. It then relocated to Richbell Avenue, off of Palmer, and finally moved to its present home in 1928.

Now, one might ask…why is Walter’s shaped like a Chinese pagoda? “When Walter’s was first built, Larchmont and Mamaroneck were not as densely populated as they are now,” said Peter Fellows, who co-manages Walter’s with his wife, Jeanne. “Since Walter’s was a roadside eatery and not a sit-down restaurant, Walter Warrington wanted Walter’s to attract the attention of people passing by.”

As it happens, the pagoda’s unique design has brought Walter’s a great deal of acclaim. In 1983, Walter’s was declared a historical landmark by the Tri-Centennial Committee of Westchester County. In addition, Walter’s has been called “Westchester County’s best-known contribution to road-side architecture,” by Mid-Atlantic Road-Side Delights.

Walter's Fame

Perhaps because of its fame, celebrities such as Woody Allen, Willy Mays, former Larchmont resident Matt Dillon, Montel Williams, and according to local residents, Saturday Night Live star Jimmy Fallon have been seen there. In addition, it’s been used for the filming of commercials. In 1993 Walter’s was used as the backdrop for a DARE ad in which famous actor Seth Green (Scott Evil in Austin Powers) tries to pressure other students into smoking marijuana. They all refuse, and as the camera pulls back they are walking past Walter’s and the commercial draws to a close.

Anyone who has stood in the snaking line that runs to the “order” window cannot help but wonder about the postcards that are sent to Walter’s from all over the world. Mr. Fellows explained: “People used to send postcards to Walter to say how much they missed the hot dogs; today it’s just a tradition that continues on.” In 1927, Admiral Bird sent one after his journey to the South Pole, and other cards have come from places such as Athens, Paris, Las Vegas, and Vietnam. One was recently received from a marine stationed in Iraq.

Walter's and the High School

The love affair between Walter’s and MHS students goes back a long way and is well-deserved. Around the 1950’s Mamaroneck High School had a closed campus policy. During lunchtime, students were not allowed to leave the school premises. At the time, Walter’s had tables in the back, and students would sneak into the restaurant when they didn’t have class and hide inside to avoid being caught. Manager Peter Fellows described what would happen: “The truancy officer used to come down and check to see if kids were inside. He claimed he would wait outside because they had to come out eventually.” However, the Walter’s staff was smarter than that, and used to sneak kids back to MHS inside the hot dog truck that they used for deliveries.

Howard McMichael, a 1956 Mamaroneck High School graduate remembered: “We had people who were runners and would get us hot dogs and bring them back to school. They would go across the street and risk getting caught just to get the hot dogs.”

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Today: A New Generation of MHS Students

To serve an average of “miles and miles of hot dogs” a day takes speed, dedication, and an ability to work in a hot environment. Eric Leal, a freshman at MHS and a Walter’s employee stated, “Almost every day is a chaotic one for us. Some days, the line never ends, and standing up the whole time is very tiring. People don’t realize that it gets very hot inside, but we still work as hard as we can to provide great service.”

The devotion to Walter’s seems as if it will go on forever: “Walter’s is comfort food on the go,” said Mamaroneck High School senior Sara Blumenfrucht. “If I'm having a bad day at school, I can just drown my sorrows in a chocolate shake and curly fries.”

Teddy Cecil, MHS senior, agreed with her and stated, “Even their soda is amazing-and there's nothing different about it other than the fact that it's from Walter's.”

 

 

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