published Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Griffin's Footlong Hot Dogs celebrates 75 years with expansion plans

Josh Hyde, far right, 30, builds one of the famous Griffin Footlong Hot Dogs  as a crowd begins to build at lunchtime.
Josh Hyde, far right, 30, builds one of the famous Griffin Footlong Hot Dogs as a crowd begins to build at lunchtime.
Photo by Tim Barber.

75-YEARS OF HOT DOGS

• 1939: Wille Mae Griffin Hawkins founds Miss Griffin's Footlong Hot Dogs

• 1966: The restaurant moves from a stand-alone shack at the corner of Main and Central to the strip of buildings a few yards back, in order to make room for traffic improvements

• 1970s: The restaurant leaves the Griffin family

• 2008: Tom Hyde buys the restaurant

• 2014: Griffin's expands and marks 75 years in business

Source: Josh Hyde

Terry Thurman steps into Griffin's Footlong Hot Dogs and immediately starts to grin.

The walls, painted bright yellow with firetruck-red trim, are covered in photos from years past. The smell of hot dogs is overwhelming in the tiny shop. A line of little diner tables hugs the wall across from the counter.

The white-haired Thurman strides to the counter with childlike delight.

"Oh man," he says, sweeping his eyes from one end of the shop to the other. "Is this the original building?"

No, manager Josh Hyde tells him. But there's a picture over there on the wall of the first shack if you want to take a look. Thurman dashes over and squints and the old black-and-white newspaper photo.

"Yep," he says after a moment, satisfied. He turns back to the counter.

"I always wanted a footlong hot dog and my mom would never buy one for me," the 69-year-old proclaims. "It was always one of those unattainable goals."

Then he orders a footlong hotdog.

It's always like that, Hyde said later. After 75 years in business on the same corner -- the intersection of Main Street and Central Avenue -- most customers have been eating Griffin's hotdogs for decades. Two, three or four generations of families often gather at the same table.

And Griffin's is marking its 75th anniversary in a big way. Hyde and his brother, owner Tom Hyde, are knocking down the restaurant's interior wall and expanding into the empty shop next door.

Hyde will add 25 seats to the restaurant's current -- and cramped -- 13. He hopes to also add a handful of vintage pinball and video game machines, set up a little space for birthday parties.

"I want to expand without losing the nostalgia," he said. "That's half of what people come here for. It's to remember better times and better days. Or maybe just old times. We don't want to lose that. It's a very tricky line, which is why we really haven't added much to the menu."

Hyde has added brownies, toppings and a vegetarian dog, but still uses founder Willie Mae Griffin Hawkins' original relish recipe. He strives to treat every hotdog as a work of art and should be open in the new space by July 1.

Even beyond the expansion, Hyde hopes to eventually open a Griffin's Footlong Hotdogs food truck to serve at places like the Chattanooga Market to --hopefully -- introduce a whole new group of customers to Griffin's.

He's steering clear of franchising in part because the previous owner, Jason Anderson, attempted to franchise the brand a few years ago and failed. Hyde added he's happy with what he's accomplished in the last six years at the restaurant.

"I'm glad it survived long enough for me to get my hands on it, because I'll never let it go," he said. "I hope we're doing Miss Griffin proud."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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