Joanna M. Carman
455 Bank Street
Great City Hotdog Legacy Continues
BY JOANNA M. CARMAN
Daily News Staff Writer
It had become a tradition, and many will be happy to know that the hot dogs will not change.
Sam’s Restaurant, located along Lysle Boulevard, changed owners as of last Monday, and the new owner, Philip Haughey, has inherited the recipes and secrets of the great McKeesport hot dog.
Former owner Katherine Pandel also wants to assure people that the business is going from their traditional family to another traditional family.
Haughey said that if his father’s name is mentioned to any old-timers in the area, a story is sure to come from it. “Everyone knew my father,” he said. “I still hear his name come up in conversations almost every day.”
Haughey said his father, Robert E. Haughey, was a doctor who sometimes sent someone down to Sam’s to pick up hot dogs for his patients.
Those who have enjoyed the atmosphere of Sam’s Restaurant for years, need not worry about that changing too much, either. In fact, they may even get a flash from their past in just a short while.
Haughey is planning on restoring the restaurant to make it look more like it did back in the 1950s, when Sam Pandel owned it. He wants to put up neon lights, old jukeboxes, anything that was typical to that time.
“What’s really neat about the place is that all of the equipment is original,” Haughey said.
The grill that cooks the hot dogs just right is original and was specially made when Sam Pandel opened the Superior Restaurant along Fifth Avenue in 1922, later nicknamed Sam’s by kids back in the 1940s and ‘50s.
There also are old plaques, photographs, old newspaper articles and even the original napkin holders at the restaurant. On the wall, just above one of the booths, is an old fire extinguisher that was part of the original Superior Restaurant.
There will be some slight alterations.
The name, for instance, will change to “Sam’s Classic Grill and Superior Catering.” Haughey’s sister, Pat Harper, will be in charge of the catering service, which will cover meetings, weddings, picnics, graduations and other events. In-restaurant parties also will be available.
Pennsylvania State University Board of Trustees luncheon, which only comes into the area once every 20 years, was catered by the siblings.
Another service offered by the Haugheys is home-delivered meals for those who cannot cook for themselves or would just like to have dinner delivered to their doorsteps. They even will make a full Thanksgiving or Easter dinner to be delivered to homes for the holidays.
Although those who were employed by the Pandel family at Sam’s will remain at their jobs, Haughey said he will bring some of his own people in for the catering service and one special employee to grab customers.
That special employee doesn’t have an official name, but was dubbed the new mascot of the restaurant.
He is a mechanical chef that waves a plate of hot dogs and a beer up and down. Haughey said he plans to place the mascot in a Plexiglas box on the building with a neon sign that says “Sam’s.”
There will be daily specials added to the menu at Sam’s, and, by the way, a little touch of McKeesport history will be on that menu, too.
Among menu items are the Robert Hall Beef and Cheddar Melt, Immel’s Bacon Cheeseburger, Jaison’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich, Murphy’s Tossed Salad and the Penn-McKee Sundae.
“The menu reflects McKeesport's past — remembering how it was,” Haughey said.
“He’s doing the menu like daddy did,” Pandel said.
Another fine menu touch for all health-conscious people will be low-fat foods.
Harper is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant. With her brother’s culinary education and experience, they said they will be able to make foods that are good for you, but just enough to keep the good taste.
“Because he’s a chef, he’s learned the secret to making food taste good,” Harper said.
For those who aren’t too concerned about the way they eat, don’t worry, you will still be able to get all the original Sam’s foods.
The final menu has not been made, although, Haughey does have a flyer for his customers to look at.
Why would Pandel turn down others to purchase the restaurant, but sell to Haughey?
“I love McKeesport,” Pandel said. “I want it to continue and I want it to come back to the way it was and Philip can do that.”
Haughey’s experience stems from numerous restaurants.
He began his career in 1971 at Woody’s Little Italy Restaurant and moved on to the Lemon Tree and Chef Paul’s. He then decided to go to a culinary school, which he graduated from in 1982.
From there, Haughey has worked at the Pittsburgh Hilton and a “ton of smaller restaurants.” He also was executive chef at James's River Country Club, a resort in Virginia, and a banquet chef at the King’s Mill, also in Virginia.
“I have traveled around the country working in restaurants,” he said.
Haughey came back to McKeesport in 1991 when he opened the White Oak Express and P.H. Catering, which was located along O’Neil Boulevard. He outgrew that business and moved on to start the Galley Restaurant, also in White Oak, but left in 1995 when opportunity arose to purchase Sam’s.
Upcoming events for the restaurant include a grand opening, a 50th anniversary for the time spent at the current location, and a 75th anniversary for the existence of the restaurant, although the owners are not sure when the event will take place.
Harper said she’s heard Sam’s hot dogs described numerous times as the “best hot dogs in the world.”
So what makes them so good?
“It’s a combination of things that makes it the best hot dog in the world,” Harper said.
These things are the grill, the steam table, which was specially modified for Sam’s, a special chili recipe, hand-chopped onions and special mustard.
Harper said it was estimated that more than 10 million hot dogs have been sold in Sam’s history. The most hot dogs sold in one day was 1,990 during the Christmas weekend of 1969, according to Pandel.
In fact, the business made it possible for Sam Pandel to put each of his five children through college, and for some of his grandchildren to receive degrees.
The tradition of Sam Pandel’s hot dogs will live on in the City of McKeesport.
© The Daily News, McKeesport, Pennsylvania 15132
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