What could Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Elvis Presley and Whoopi Goldberg possibly all have in common? Well, for starters, they’ve all eaten hot dogs in Montgomery, Alabama!
Visiting Chris Hot Dogs
Chris’ Hot Dogs is an institution in Montgomery, with every Governor of Alabama since 1917 having eaten here. Opened by Greek Christopher Anastasios Katechis, it is now run by his son and grandson, in the same location it has stood for over 100 years.
When I travelled to Montgomery, AL last spring, known for its pivotal role in the civil rights movement, I hoped my visit would leave a lasting impression on me. I never imagined that it would be a simple hot dog store, located on one of the main streets in the city, that would leave me with the fondest memories, and would help me get a deeper understanding of life in Alabama.
Chris’ Hot Dogs was celebrating 100 year of business the week we visited, and you could tell straight away that this was not your average hot dog shop. Not for the inhabitants of Montgomery, Alabama anyway.
While we sat and waited for out hot dogs (with extra special sauce!) and fries, the owner came and chatted to us for a while, telling us stories of all the famous people who had eaten here (both Elvis and Hank Williams!) in the past and the role the shop had played in the local community.
The restaurant, located on the famous Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, was just across the street from where Rosa Parks worked as a seamstress. You can even see the Posey Parking Lot from the restaurant, which is protestors would gather to carpool to work during the famous bus boycotts. It’s also just down the road from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. King would give his sermons…before stopping in for a hot dog every Sunday afternoon!
He told us about the largest order they had ever received, which was for 2,600 hot dogs for the commissioning of the USS Montgomery on September 10, 2016. The previous record before that, he said, was 2,000 hot dogs for the 1963 campaign rally for George Wallace!
I walked around, getting clips for a video I planned to make about the shop, and loved meeting all the characters that make this hot dog joint so unique.
The waitress who was hired 42 years ago and never left. The man at the bar full of smiles, reading his paper and commenting how he has been coming here every week since the early sixties. Two elderly ladies in their 80’s, munching on hot dogs and sipping some beers, who told me they had been coming to Chris’ for over 62 years, maybe longer but that’s all they remember
Some love coming here for the hot dogs, the hamburgers, the fries – a weekly treat they allow themselves. Others, I get the impression, come for the camaraderie – a way to catch up with friends in a familiar setting, a place you you’ll always meet someone you know. But also, apparently a top spot for politicians and old Montgomery people – you never know who you might see munching down a hot dog!
Even the owner comments on how small and tight the space is, but how it’s just perfect for what they need it for. A place to come down and “eat, drink and just relax”.
When I released my video of Chris’ Hot Dogs last year, the true magic happened. People started coming forward and messaging me, or commenting on the video, how much this simple hot dog store in Montgomery meant to them.
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“I passed by this place every day on my walk to the capitol during lunch back in the 70s.”
“Mr. Chris gave me my first hotdog when I was 3 or 4. I’m now 64. My mom and I ate there the day Dr. King marched in from Selma. I stood outside on the corner. Love some Chris’.”
“My daddy started eating there with his older brother in the 30s and continued til he passed away at 90 last year.”
Sure, you can go to all the main attractions in a city, check out some museums and popular tourists spots. You can try learn about a city’s past and try to understand its present from buildings and books and biographies, but you will never truly understand a place until you spend some time with the locals.
For me, visiting Chris’ hot dogs and making this video showed me the love people in Montgomery have for their city. It gave me an insight into their struggles, both past and present and showed off their pride – their pride in Chris’ as a local institution, their pride in the city they live in and their pride in themselves and their community.
And there you have the story of a man, his hot dogs and the city of Montgomery, Alabama.