It's more than a hot dog shop. It's a generational tradition.
Opened in 1918, Texas Hot Dogs of Altoona (then called Texas Hot Weiners), has steadfastly remained a popular gathering place for hot dog lovers across the city and beyond.
"It seems to be an established thing for Altoona people," said Bob Lamont, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Cindy, both of Hollidaysburg. "Even people who used to live here and come back to visit relatives and family, or attend a wedding, say the first place they have to go to when they get here is Texas Hot Dogs."
Mirror photo illustration by J.D. Cavrich and Tom Worthington II
Texas Hot Dogs owner Bob Lamont works on filling orders of hot dogs by lining them up along his arm.
And there's no sense in tampering with success.
"Our main objective was and is to just keep it the way it's always been," said Bob Lamont, 53, who purchased the restaurant from an uncle in 1973.
"It's something I grew up with, so we've always strived to keep the product the same - to make sure there were no changes made, and that everything stays consistent."
Texas Hot Dogs
Address: 1112 12th Ave., Altoona
Hours: Texas Hot Dogs is open from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.
Price Range: $1.49 to $2.25
Specialties: Hot dogs, chili sauce, french fries, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, onion rings, gravy fries, cheese balls
Beverages: Soda, chocolate milk
Soups: Broccoli and Cheese, Cheddar Cheese Cauliflower, Ham and Bean, Cream of Potato
Seating Capacity: 60 to 65
Reservations: Not needed
Cindy Lamont, 52, said that beyond offering a distinctive and affordable food product, the pillar of strength behind the restaurant's longevity has been its hard-working, friendly staff - most of whom have been working there for at least a decade.
"They know the customers, and they have a rapport with them," she said. "They really go out of their way to meet and greet people. Much of the time, they know your order before you even get to your seat."
So what makes a Texas hot dog so distinctive, so popular?
"The (chili) sauce recipe is specific to us," Cindy Lamont said. "It's just a different flavor. It's not overly spicy or hot. It's just a perfect blend of so many combinations."
As for the lone-star state designation ...
"It's again because of the chili sauce - all beans and no meat," she said.
It also has a stronger Greek cuisine influence due to the ethnicity of the cooks who invented it, she said, adding the most popular, or "all the way" Texas hot dog ($1.49), consists of a hot dog covered in brown mustard, diced onions and chili sauce.
"You really have to layer the flavors in and let it simmer for a long time," Bob Lamont said. "It takes me about 5 to 6 hours to make - two or three times a week."
Other popular menu items include side dishes such as baked beans, onion rings, cheese balls, french fries and mushrooms, gravy fries, a variety of soups and of course, the ever popular Texas Macaroni and Cheese - thickly cheese-coated macaroni smothered with hot dog meat sauce - all ranging in price from $1.49 to $2.02.
"Many customers have to have their hot dogs with the mac and cheese," said waitress Kim McIntire, 40, of Altoona, who's worked at the restaurant for more than 20 years.
"We sell a lot of chocolate milk here, too. It's just been a tradition."
Ten-year waitressing veteran Dawn George, 47, of Altoona, said another hallmark of the restaurant is its relaxed atmosphere.
"It's a joking, jolly kind of vibe," she said. "The employees, the customers - they're all just fun to work with."
The restaurant's ambience also draws heavily on nostalgia: walls decorated with old pictures of downtown Altoona, shelves lined with old soda bottles and remnants of the restaurant's past, and a big wooden barrel that dispenses red Pennsylvania birch beer and root beer.
Terry Kane, 67, and Scot McCommons, 49, both of Altoona, come to Texas Hot Dogs together at least twice a week after a long day on the golf course.
"I've been eating Texas Hot Dogs all my life," said Kane, a retired painter. "I just get the hot dogs. Sometimes I'll get a side order of french fries. The hot dogs are really good - I mean, really good. I wouldn't eat a hot dog anywhere else."
McCommons, who recalled coming to Texas Hot Weiners as a child with his mother, said one of the biggest thrills of his life came in March of last year - right as he walking out of Texas Hot Dogs.
"I was coming in from a hard day's golf," he said. "I saw Barack Obama coming in, just as I was going out. At first, I saw Gov. Casey, then I saw him. I went home and told my wife, but she didn't believe me. It was pretty much the biggest thrill of my life.
The Lamonts also will never forget the day Obama and his entourage came in for "a hot dog with sauce, no onions, a root beer and an order of fries."
"It was very interesting - like a movie," said Bob Lamont. "There were Secret Servive guys, reporters - everything. It was just amazing to watch. When you see that many people coming in, you're a little bit dumbfounded."
"I was more amazed than anything. It was an awesome experience," Cindy Lamont said. "I didn't really have time to be nervous because I didn't even know he was coming. Bob told me about an hour prior to his coming. I didn't believe him."
As a customer, McCommons had a pretty good idea why, out of all the restaurant's in Altoona, Obama would choose Texas Hot Dogs.
"It's just a nice small-town, friendly atmosphere," he said. "Hey, if he thought this was a good enough place to get a hot dog, that should speak for itself."
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.