Touching Father’s Day tale of death, hot dogs and Louie’s future - INTERVIEW
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • June 14, 2013 @ 10:46am
Whether it’s through social media, personal anecdotes or the queries of Elmwood Avenue residents, we’ve noticed a groundswell of hope, support and curiosity surrounding the former Louie’s Foot Long Hot Dogs on Elmwood, which closed due to a fire that devastated the building on Feb. 8.
To learn about the future of the popular late-night stop at the corner of Elmwood and Hodge, we reached out to owner Angelo Turco, a fixture at the Elmwood spot since it opened in 1990 and son of the foot long hot dog connoisseur Louie Turco, who passed on May 1 of this year. Prior to his father’s death, Angelo Turco seemed hell-bent on rebuilding and reopening the hot dog joint at 470 Elmwood Ave. himself.
“We’re going to rise up out of the ashes,” Turco vowed to The Buffalo News’ Maki Becker the day following the fire.
Grappling with his father’s passing and recognizing the physical, mental and emotional demand of running a 12-month restaurant that serves lunch, dinner and late-night fare, Turco has reconsidered his February stance but continues to seek alternatives due to the reverence surrounding the brand’s history and the fervent passion of his customer base.
“The outcry [of support] from the community has been humbling,” Turco admitted. “Everything I have in my life is because of that store. I don’t want to lose the [Louie’s] name on that corner.”
While Turco concedes that, if the fire hadn’t occurred, business would still be humming along as usual, the April-through-October hours of the original Louie’s Foot Long Hot Dogs on Sheridan Drive in Tonawanda is more suitable for the 49-year-old—the occasional triple-shift is a lot more tolerable when it’s seasonal, and he owns a summer house in Florida that allows him to golf and relax.
Though Turco doesn’t see himself undertaking the year-long grind again, he noted that—beginning last weekend—he’s become more open to the idea of franchising a Louie’s location in the same spot.
“While there’s nothing definitive yet,” Turco qualified, “there’s a very strong possibility that the location will remain a Louie’s.”
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for someone younger and vivacious,” he added, further noting that the “dynamic location” allowed him to make a fine living off the store. “There’s already a brand that’s been built, a strong customer base and the food won’t change, but I just don’t have the support group at this time in my life to work 12 months a year.”
Turco is grateful for the patience of landlord Mark Gademsky, who’s remained supportive over the last four trying months despite being inundated with inquiries for the currently-vacant location.
“Mark wants us to reopen,” the owner of Louie’s Foot Long Hot Dogs explained. “He’s been patient and supportive, and he even went to my father’s funeral and wake. I don’t expect him to wait around [for me to decide], especially if a reputable name is interested. There would be no hard feelings whatsoever [if Gademsky fills his space with a non-Louie’s business).”
The process of franchising could take a while, however, largely because Turco will be selective in choosing the business partner.
“I’m willing to entertain offers,” he continued, asking potential franchisers to message him through Louie’s Facebook page if they’re interested. “
With over 40 years in the hot dog business—Turco began helping his father when he was a 5-year old grill spectator—the owner has every right to be selective in finding the right operator to succeed him at the Elmwood spot, and if the right owner doesn’t come along, the son will be proud that he hasn’t tarnished his father’s legacy.
“I remember graduating from school and having my father call me that night saying, ‘Ange, we need you at the store tomorrow,’” the wistful son recalled.
“My father spent his whole life building the brand name up,” Turco said, “and I won’t let his effort go to waste.”