LEWISTON – How do you keep a family business afloat through four generations and 100 years? If you’re a Simones, the key is to greet each day with relish.

“I’ve always loved it. I’ve had other opportunities, but no, I love this,” said Jimmy Simones, as he gestured toward the counter at Simones’ Hot Dog Stand. The eatery has been a fixture on Chestnut Street since 1908 when Stergios Dahtaras, his wife – a Simones – and her brothers opened it.

“I come to work smiling and I’m still smiling at the end of the day,” Jimmy Simones said. “If I’m not, then maybe it’s time to work elsewhere.”

He and his wife, Linda, are the third generation to keep the business humming, with son, George, ready to take over one day. The family is planning a celebration Aug. 11 through 15 to mark the business’ centennial, with $1 specials, door prizes and other events. They’ll even have a popcorn machine, a nod to the popcorn cart that Jimmy’s grandparents wheeled around Kennedy Park and Garcelon Field, selling nickel bags of popcorn during circus visits.

“It was a great little side business until it burned up,” said Linda with a laugh. “It overheated when they were getting ready to pop some corn and that was that.”

Misadventures were nothing new to Greek immigrants eager to leave a country torn by conflict between Turks and Bulgarians for a better life in the states. When the Great Depression and World War II shortened the eatery’s supply of trademark red hot dogs, the business responded by cubing bologna and then Spam and dressing them up in a hot-dog bun. When times were really tough, it offered a bun with condiments, no dog.

“I remember my grandparents talking about the CCC camp and the work crews here,” said Jimmy, referring to the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to employ young men and restore blighted land. “That’s when they established the 5-cents-each or 6-for-a-quarter (hot dog) deal.”

Until the 1950s, the restaurant operated out of a shack made of Pepsi and Coca-Cola crates across the street from its current location. A small window allowed them to pass hot dogs to the throngs of workers heading to their jobs in the mills; four stools inside were available for customers who wanted to linger.

“They saw an opportunity for fast food way back,” Jimmy Simones said.

A neighbor’s misfortune – a gas-fired water heater exploded and shot up through three floors before landing on Chestnut Street next to Jimmy’s father’s new Chevrolet – turned out to be a business opportunity.

“My father said to my grandfather, ‘We ought to buy that building; we can buy it cheap and fix it up,'” Simones said. “And that’s what they did.”

The family rented the renovated building for several years before moving the business into it in 1966, despite his grandmother’s fear that the relocation was a mistake.

“She had the worry beads going,” he recalled with a laugh.

It was for naught. Today a steady stream of regulars and newcomers keeps the place hopping. Some gather every morning or afternoon to discuss the day’s events, politics or – most recently – fuel prices. The red dog remains the centerpiece of the menu, generally served with a side of friendly conversation. A trove of guest books show customers from as far away as Egypt, Iceland and Denmark, and from as near as Sabattus.

The walls are covered with framed photos of visiting dignitaries, politicians, Maineiacs players (Jimmy and Linda Simones are the host family for two players) and, most importantly, family.

“I always say family is No. 1, the business is No. 2, but oftentimes they go hand in hand,” Linda Simones said.

Jimmy Simones started working full time at the restaurant in the mid-’70s after graduating from high school. Linda joined him after they married in 1977 and George joined them in 2001 while sister Melissa was still in school. Jimmy’s father, George, affectionately called “Papous” by the family, continued to prepare food and take care of the customers until he passed away in 2004.

It was from him that Jimmy got his zest for the family business.

“My father used to say, ‘This isn’t work, it’s a pleasure.'”

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Got a favorite memory of Simones Hot Dog Stand or photo to share? Jimmy and Linda Simones are looking for memorabilia for the celebration of the business’ 100th anniversary Aug. 11-15. Catch up with them at 946-7372 if you have a goodie.

What else was happening in 1908?

• Gasoline was 18 cents a gallon

• The Model T Ford made its debut; sticker price: $825

• Actor Jimmy Stewart was born

• A subway linking Brooklyn and Manhattan opened

• Somaliland was under siege by Abyssinians (Ethiopia)

• The Sullivan Ordinance barred women from smoking in public

• The first Mother’s Day observance took place in a church in West Virginia

• A dirigible exploded over San Francisco Bay; 16 passengers fell but none died

• Bulgaria declared independence from Turkey

• Robert Peary’s expedition set sail from New York City for the North Pole

• Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed in Bolivia

• Sears & Roebuck introduced self-built house kits in their catalog


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