Hendersonville – The immensely popular Hot Dog World in Hendersonville shifts toward the next generation of ownership. Thanasi Tsakalos carries on with help of his family after co-owner Steve Katsadouros retired after 35 years of ownership.
Thanasi, 58, became sole owner in the first week of January. He bought in as co-owner in 1997. Thanasi oversees daily operations and leads the busy food prep line. He is training his eldest son George Tsakalos, 23, all facets so George can oversee operations and eventually take over.
“I will pass it on to George,” Thanasi said of Hot Dog World. George started working there three years ago.
Younger son Christos Thanasi, 21, works at HDW part-time while studying at UNC-Asheville. Thanasi said his wife Vickie subs for workers as needed.
They have two daughters. Lina, 17, works next door in new Marino’s Pizza House run by Vickie’s sister Effie Loumis and her chef husband Marino. Ezie, 13, is the youngest Tsakalos. Thanasi said, “Ezie runs food to customers, when we’re short of people.”
Hot Dog World opened in 1986 at 226 Kanuga Road. It was a Sonic then Cardinal Drive-in, near Downtown Hendersonville’s south edge. Original owner Phillip Poulos sold it to Steve Katsadouros, his son-in-law. Steve took the helm on New Year’s Day 1987, and brought in Thanasi a decade later. Their HDW did much philanthropy for years.
Thanasi is pronounced “Thuh-NAH-see” (Thomas). Derived from “Athanasios,” the name means “immortal.” Indeed, Thanasi Tsakalos has seemingly worked in Hot Dog World forever. His happy smile is familiar to customers.
After a quarter-century, Thanasi Tsakalos still runs the kitchen smoothly, energetically and with smiles and quick banter with customers. “Thanasi enjoys talking people” — but briefly enough so not to “interfere with the flow of the work line,” Steve observed.
He said even in most hectic times and over 12-hour shifts, Thanasi “doesn’t lose his coolness. He works at an even keel.”
Thanasi said “God has blessed me with good health, thus far.” He played club soccer for decades — first in his small Greek hometown of Astros then in Tulsa, Okla. The “fanatical” cyclist typically pedals 15 miles once a week.
Astros is in the Peloponnese peninsula’s southern state of Arcadia. Thanasi emigrated to the U.S. on Dec. 1, 1982 — nearly 40 years ago. He worked with his brother and their father in a Coney Island in Tulsa. Once his father retired, “I jumped right into” administration. He ran the restaurant with his uncle for 15 years.
Thanasi said, “I consider Steve as my brother. We worked together for 25 years. I miss his smiling face, and brotherly love. But I’m very happy for him. He retired at the right time.”
The Katsadouros family still owns both adjacent business properties. Steve’s wife Dora owns the HDW facility. Steve owns the building of Marino’s, formerly Dora’s Yogurt World for a decade.
Steve Katsadouros, 61, said when talking about future ownership five years ago that Thanasi Tsakalos said he would carry on and his son George “wanted to go into the business.“
Busy working Steve said it is a relief he no longer has to “rush and hurry.” He is exercising regularly, to “stay active physically and emotionally.”
Thanasi said of HDW, “I look forward to carrying it on — with help of my staff.” There is much experience. Five workers started as teens a decade and half ago, Thanasi said proudly. “We have a great team. We have learned to work together.”
This includes dodging each other in the small, crowded kitchen. It is as if they are choreographed. “We learned to move out of each other’s way,” Thanasi said. “Everybody knows what’s coming up, the next move to make” in the food preparation.
The strong work spirit is because “we like what we’re doing,” Thanasi said. Workers echoed that sentiment. Thanasi said, “We love the community. We have met great people. We like to treat everybody like they are our family.”
Thanasi emphasized “we’re keeping the same menu that has worked for us. The food has to be right.” For instance, fries and onion rings are served right off the grill to stay extra fresh.
HDW regular customer Jackie Fowler said “their food is consistently so good. It’s exactly what I expect” in flavor and quality.
The staff gets to eat what it makes, during main breaks. “I eat everything in there” at one time or another, Thanasi said. He enjoys a “hot dog, or a gyro sandwich.” His favorite is the Carolina chili burger with hot sauce and slaw. Steve said “I like the hot dogs, and the fiesta burger.”
George’s HDW favorites are the fiesta burger, and lamb gyro smeared with tangy tzatziki sauce that seeps into lamb juices. He said it takes staff a half-hour to prepare tzatziki in big batches each morning. “We shred cucumber. We get premier consistency” from the sour cream.
George Tsakalos called his bigger (nearly 65 hours weekly) role at HDW “a big blessing. The torch is being passed to me — to continue what my Dad and Steve built. It’s a very big responsibility. I was raised around this business.”
He mostly deals with customers, but “I’ve cooked all day when my Dad is off. I know how to do every work station. I learned watching Dad and Steve. So I could jump in, and send them on a break.”
Bearded George lives on his own. He is athletic. He played soccer and swam as a West Henderson Falcon. He swam outdoors in winters. Thus “I’m used to the cold” when serving food to customer cars in winter.
George was active in WHHS theater. In a family of extroverts, “I’m the most outgoing one.”
He is personable. He memorized many regulars’ favorite meals. There are more regulars than ever, George said. “Everyone was stuck at home” in the pandemic’s early months and fills a “social niche” by coming to restaurants, he figures. “We build community relationships here.”
To check the menu online, go to hotdogworld.net/menu. The HDW phone is 697-0374.