Simones’ Hot Dog Stand has been mentioned on the floor of the U.S. Senate, featured in People magazine, and visited by governors, U.S. senators and representatives, and at least one member of a First Family — not bad for a business that started out as a shack built from wooden soda crates several years before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand ignited World War I. What began as a side hustle for James Simones, a Greek immigrant who worked in a local textile mill, eventually became an institution that has kept his grandson, Jimmy Simones, busy for an entire career, putting “Lewiston lobsters” — red-snapper dogs on steamed buns — in the hands of the hoi polloi and elbow-rubbing politicos alike. On the occasion of the latter Simones’ 50th anniversary at the shop, he looked back on where the family business has been and where it’s headed next.
Growing up, did you ever think about someday working anywhere else?
When I was five years old, I remember stocking the soda bottles in the old water-churned cooler. I always envisioned this was what I was going to do when I got out of school. I graduated Lewiston High School in June 1973. The day after graduation, I came to work with my parents, and I’ve been coming here ever since.
How did the restaurant become a regular stop on the campaign trail?
My dad, George Simones, was always very welcoming of all the politicians. The restaurant’s like a soapbox for them — they can meet and greet the customers and do some politicking. We get throngs of customers, of constituents, who come in, along with the press corps — it can be quite an event. Back in October 2016, Donald Trump Jr. came in with Governor LePage. It was a rather exciting day, with the security and the press and the many, many people who wanted to come in and see the politicians. But we’ve always welcomed every political persuasion — we don’t prefer one or the other. This is America, and it’s how the system works.
After half a century, any thoughts of retiring?
We can’t completely pull away until we can hire some people to replace us. We can’t find help, which is a national issue. But my wife, Linda, and I are at that age where we’re getting ready to take more time off and step away from the business. Our son George, who’s 42, is more than capable — he’s mixing up a batch of chili right now.
Do you have a favorite on the menu?
My favorite would be a couple hot dogs with everything — mustard, relish, onions, and celery salt, which is one of those ingredients that gives it a little more flavor — and a “dirty cow,” or a chocolate milk. That combination seems to be the number-one order, and that’s what I prefer too.