Working as I did on a Sunday newspaper from 1967 — when I was only 17 — through 1990, and again from 2000 to 2014, I was pretty much unavailable for social activities not only every single Saturday, but also every Friday night. It’s just the way it was.
And although I was the boss, the editor, during that second 14-year stint, I found myself working later on Friday than ever before. It was not unusual to leave the office at 11 p.m. Friday night and return before 8 a.m. the next morning.
The launch of Greater Pittston Progress delivered me from all that.
Among other things, it freed me to finally enjoy a Pittston City Second Friday Art Walk. I had missed the entire first year, passing up one invitation after another from my friend Billy Joyce to stop by his firm, Joyce insurance on Main Street, for a pre-walk cocktail. Fortunately, he kept me on the guest list and Mary Kay and I were sure to take him up on his offer for our first Second Friday two years ago.
We sipped a drink and shot the breeze, little of which was politics, thank God, with a delightful group for an hour or so and then accepted an offer from Charlie Sciandra to join him and his lovely wife Carol for dinner.
As the four of us strolled down Main Street we discussed our culinary options. Four came to mind: fine dining at Palazzo 53 across the street, burgers and beers at the trendy Tomato Bar around the corner, authentic Italian dishes at the Gramercy a few blocks away, or a seafood feast at Cooper’s down by the river.
We were barely into the discussion, however, when we found ourselves in front of Majestic Lunch, which as its name suggests, is not typically open in the evening. It was for Second Friday, though, and that made our decision easy.
“Hot dogs?” I said, my eyebrows going up along with my voice.
It was unanimous.
We got in there just in time, too, because no sooner had we found the only empty booth in the place when half of Pittston showed up … and a good deal of former Pittston. You don’t come home for a visit without a stop at the Majestic.
Maybe the special had something to do with it: buy two hot dogs and get one free.
Now, the last thing Mary Kay and I needed was three hot dogs. But that didn’t stop us from ordering them. Truth is, I can probably eat four or five Majestic hot dogs without flinching, and with only a slight amount of guilt.
I cannot remember exactly but I think Charlie and Carol took the sensible route and got the three hot dog special to share. We didn’t judge them and hoped they didn’t judge us. I pointedly did not make eye contact as I sunk my teeth into my third.
The best way to consume a Majestic hot dog is with everything (mustard, their own special chili, and chopped onions), but on this night everything also included a ton of fun. As I said, it seemed half the town was there and that included the county district attorney bussing tables. Stephanie Salavantis is the granddaughter of Stanley and Nitsa Salavantis, who had run the Majestic since 1954.
“I’ll never be too old or too important to grab a rag and wipe off a table,” she said. “I’ve been doing this since I was a kid.”
The Majestic operation itself has been in the same spot on Main Street for more than 100 years. The famous hot dog chili goes back almost that long and has been the subject of many a debate as to its ingredients. “Cinnamon,” you’ll often hear people say. “I think they put cinnamon in it.”
Neither the Salavantises nor their predecessors, all of Greek origin, would confirm or deny these claims or any other. All they ever admitted is that the recipe remained the same.
All of this I would have relayed in the WVIA production “Our Town: Pittston” which premiered last Thursday night if only I had not been out of town during the tapings. I brought up Majestic hot dogs as a Pittston icon at a planning meeting and was promptly given the assignment of talking about them. So I feel I dropped the ball. Main Street Manager Rose Randazzo did mention the Majestic has been around for more than a century.
My personal history with Majestic hot dogs got a late start but really took off once it began. It’s about 50 years old.
Unlike those my age who went to school at St. John’s, I — a Pittston High and later Pittston Area student — did not spend my high school days having lunch at the Majestic. I was introduced to it the very first night I worked at the Sunday Dispatch, though, in the summer of 1967. I was a kid about to be handed the reins of sports editor but also found out I had a lot of other duties. Going for the hot dogs at midnight was one of them.
The Dispatch was located right across the street from the Majestic in those days and I was able to walk over. The order might be a couple of dozen hot dogs and a like number of hamburgers. Also several coffees. Usually, it took two trips. I clearly recall how all the guys gave platemaker Joe Luke a hard time for ordering his hot dogs with ketchup only. It was sacrilegious to pass up the chili and onions.
The Dispatch later moved from Main Street, which only meant my Majestic runs were then by automobile.
Once I turned 21, I discovered something all the older guys had known for years: Nothing cured a hangover like a Majestic hot dog. There was magic in those onions.
Aside from several years as a contributing columnist, I spent 36 years at the Sunday Dispatch and never was able to relinquish my role of taking the lunch order. So I know full well how Stephanie Salavantis feels.
The only change was that as the size of the newspaper staff shrunk so did the order. And as editor, I sometimes felt compelled to pick up the tab.
I called in so many lunch orders to the Majestic I still know the phone number: 655-8888.
It was easy to remember because it could not have been more perfect. In the mood for Majestic hot dogs? Dial “ate, ate, ate, ate.”
And, please, unless your name is Joe Luke, no “ketchup only.”
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.