Pass the Mustard

Mark Mayberry

Celebrating 90 years in business is quite a feat. Especially if you're selling hot dogs! When I came back to the United States after serving in Viet Nam, I moved to Montgomery, Alabama. I spent 1 1/2 years in Montgomery before moving to Atlanta in 1973. I'm sure you're wondering - What has Montgomery got to do with selling hot dogs...

In downtown Montgomery, Chris' restauarant has been serving hot dogs and hamburgers since 1917. I recently returned to Montgomery to give a speech. After the presentation, I asked an audience member, "Where's the place that I remember that serves the great hot dogs and hamburgers?" The response was immediate - "You must mean Chris'!" As it turned out, Chris' was only a few blocks from my speaking engagement, and my client, John, and I headed there.

Much to our surprise, we saw a special sign over the entrance to Chris' which said that they were celebrating their 90th birthday. Shazzam! John and I decided to brave the long lines and eat lunch at this Montgomery icon. We weren't disappointed.

When Chris' opened in 1917, it was called the Post Office Cafe and Fruit Stand. Yes, they actually had a fruit stand in front of the restaurant. For the first 20 years, they had waitresses taking orders from the Customers in their cars. Finally, because of the traffic congestion caused by this popular eatery, the city made them shut that curb service down, and a dining room was added.

The hot dogs are incredible, served with mustard, onions and a "secret" sauce. Their hamburgers are also "out of this world," so I ordered one of each. They were as good as I had remembered. I've had good chili dogs before, and my favorites are from Atlanta's Varsity and Cincinnati's Skyline. Chris' sauce is different, and its unique flavor is like no other hot dog that I've ever eaten. To top it off, the hamburger actually tastes like hamburger, not like the frozen whatever-it-is that you get at most fast food restaurants. And for this special event, our first hot dog was only a nickel.

What makes a "small" business last 90 years? They not only serve great food - its food is different from the competition. It's not only unique in the way it's prepared - it tastes better, even the French Fries. Their location is cramped, but that adds to the atmosphere, and they are located in a downtown area that is being revitalized. In fact, I was amazed at all the building going on in downtown Montgomery. Their waiters and waitresses are fun, and the entire experience was something that I had remembered for 3 decades! Great and unique food, a prime location (that is getting even better) and a wait staff that is loaded with "Shazzam!" What a dynamite combination!

In addition to most of Alabama's governors eating at Chris' since it opened, Hank Williams, Sr. and Elvis are reported to have dined there. If you're ever in the Montgomery area, don't miss this lunch-time Shazzam!

The Shazzam Challenge

What makes your business stand out from the competition? What can you do to add longevity to your business and to become an "icon" in your community?

Mark Mayberry is president of the Mayberry Group and author of Building the Dream Workforce.
Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.

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