Chris’ Famous Hot Dogs, Montgomery’s oldest family-owned and operated restaurant just celebrated 100 years in business. It was started as a fruit and newspaper stand by owner Gus Katechis’ grandfather, Christopher Anastasios Katechis, in May 1917 and then grew to serve hot dogs and other food.
“[Chris] was a Greek immigrant who, after going through Ellis Island, settled in Montgomery,” Katechis says. “While he was in New York, he saw the hot dogs on Coney Island and brought them to Alabama. One of the proudest moments Chris had was becoming an American citizen in 1922. He always tried to be a good American—what’s more American than a hot dog?”
Chris’ desire to be a patriot played out in all areas of his life. He read the local papers to learn to read and speak English. He sold war bonds, planted a freedom garden, and collected metal for the war effort.
And in 100 years of business, Chris’ Hot Dogs has had a front seat to history. It’s located on historic Dexter Avenue where the Montgomery Bus boycott started and the Selma to Montgomery march ended. Customers have included FDR, Harry Truman, Elvis, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Hank Williams. Plus, they’ve been witness to countless important occasions in people’s lives. With the courthouse just down the street, numerous couples walk down to Chris’ for their first meal as husband and wife—and come back on their anniversaries.
The secret to their success? Katechis says he has learned some of the most important lessons about business from his father and his grandfather: You get what you put in. You may not see your effort immediately, but it will pay off. Never become complacent. Even with 100 years in business, they learn something new—and confront a new challenge—every day. You have to be present. You cannot pay someone enough to run your business as you would, and customers like to see one of the owners at the restaurant. Support your community. Help the churches, the homeless, the local nonprofits. They are the character of your city and without a vibrant, healthy community, you have no customers, and your customers are the ones who pay your bills. Finally, treat your employees like family—without them, you don’t have a business.
Alabama’s business environment has helped Chris’ succeed, too.
“Alabama is a great place to do business because our state leaders have created an environment that is always looking to help with economic development,” he says. “Without businesses, there is no money for people to spend. Plus, Alabama’s state tax structure is not overbearing.”
At the federal level, it’s a different story, but that’s where NFIB comes in.
“We joined NFIB to have a voice in D.C.,” Katechis says. “Without belonging to a group, a small business cannot get anything done in Washington. I personally don’t have time or resources to lobby our lawmakers, but as a huge group of independent business owners, our voices mean more.”