VERNON TOWNSHIP —
It was a cold, dark, blustery afternoon and snowflakes had started to spit from the steel colored-sky.
Amanda Allen was bundled up against Tuesday’s cold and had been waiting outside patiently in an ever-growing line of customers as cars steadily pulled off Route 322, enticed by the aroma of freshly cooked hot dogs, melted cheese and chili. Despite the circumstances, Allen was smiling and her spirits were high — for good reason.
“Eddie’s is a summer staple,” Allen said. “Whenever Eddie’s or Hank’s opens, it makes me feel like summer should be here any minute.”
It’s a sentiment shared by most of the others in line Tuesday as Eddie’s Footlong Hot Dogs opened for the season, and that sentiment is echoing across the county as longtime favorite summertime food hotspots reopen, sending stomachs rumbling and winter-weary spirits soaring. Every town and crossroads around here seems to have one — the summertime hangout for generations of locals that serves up the best ice cream and burgers or dogs with that special something. Many have been owned for decades by the same family, even several generations of a family, and they specialize in knowing their customer-neighbors. Enumerating all these special places that help make our communities unique would require a special edition of this paper, but we checked in with a few this week to see how things were coming along despite the very un-springlike weather.
Out in Saegertown, these conditions are downright balmy for the crew operating the ever-popular Dairy Inn on Main Street. Tom and Sonia Kirdahy have owed the Dairy Inn for 27 years and they pride themselves in being one of the earliest — if not the earliest — seasonal food destination to open in the area.
Footlongs, those savory dinner baskets and that very special soft ice cream have been making smiles since early February and will do so through October.
Out in Linesville at Rauscher’s Dairy Bar, Joyce Rauscher is marketing for the weather. “On days like this I always say we have hot fudge,” she said of the business’ Friday opening. “We had a few brave souls waiting in line for us to open.”
Rauscher and her husband, Tom, are the second generation to own the business. They’ve had it for 13 years and it was previously owned by Tom’s parents for 40 years.
With that many years in business, the clientele is very familiar.
“Sometimes I may not see their faces (since Rauscher is working on cooking an order), but you know who is here by what they order,” she said with a laugh.
She said the stand tries to keep its menu fresh by adding new items.
“We’re more than soft-serve (ice cream), french fries and burgers,” she said. “We’ve added Marcie’s Hard Ice Cream, which is made by another Crawford County business, Lemon-Blend slushes and pierogies.
“Every time I think I’ll shorten the menu, I remember who likes that item and we keep it,” she said.
Yet to open is perhaps the most legendary of Crawford County’s seasonal food giants. But don’t despair — Hank’s Frozen Custard in Vernon Township opens Sunday for its 62nd season and it is now in its third generation of family ownership.
“We always have quite a few regulars the first day,” said Ryan Hild, 36, Hank’s current owner. He’s been prepping the business since about mid-February. “Our opening day will be pretty busy — especially if the sun is out.”
The business will open about a week earlier than usual since Easter falls on March 31, a day the stand will be closed, he said.
“We’re offering the same good stuff,” Hild said with a chuckle.
The “stuff” has a high content of butterfat, a minimum of 10 percent, and egg yolk, 1.5 percent — specific ingredients giving the custard a thick and creamy texture. The frozen custard is made in the original machines that date back to 1952 when Hild’s grandfather, Ernie, opened the business.
Another decades-old tradition continues this year as well — the license plate game.
The stand tracks and posts the state license plates on vehicles that visit, trying to get vehicles from all 50 states.
“We got them all last year by August — usually it’s right down to the wire when we close (in mid-September),” he said. “People usually check the list before they check our flavors of the day.”
Tribune photographer Andrew Mahone and Tribune reporters Keith Gushard and Konstantine Fekos contributed to this story.