PORTLAND — East Hampton couple Andrea and Alan Spaulding have been slinging Thumann’s hot dogs with all the fixings from their iconic Airstream trailer on Route 66 for so many decades that their customers now span several generations.
“I now have kids of kids of kids,” said Andrea Spaulding, who has run the distinctive Top Dog stand, a roadside attraction, for 43 years with help from her husband. Customers come from all over Connecticut, upstate New York and even Europe one time.
The menu is simple: hot dogs, chips, and soda including Foxon Park of East Haven. Prices are affordable: hot dogs range in price from $3.60 to $4.70 depending on the toppings. Only cash is accepted.
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The 1963 bun-colored former camper is based at the defunct Connecticut Central Railroad depot at 211 Marlborough Road, not far from the Portland Bridge.
The trailer, topped by a large, red hot dog complete with mustard and relish, was custom made by Alan Spaulding. It took him hundreds of hours to trick it out.
“When I saw the trailer, I had a vision that it looked like a hot dog roll (even though it was a silver color)," he said. That’s when business doubled.
It’s a well-known local landmark, drawn by a 1972 yellow Marathon checker cab with an “Elvis” mannequin dressed in a Hawaiian shirt as passenger.
"Elvis" has been riding with them for more than 20 years. “I thought it would be cute,” Andrea Spaulding said, thinking of the spectacle. She came up with the idea. “I also had Marilyn Monroe, but over the years, we’ve gotten so much stuff that we put in the car, she had to get out.”
She and her husband have run the stand together for the past four years after her husband, who started the business in 1980, sold his own endeavor, although he previously had helped out on the weekends when he could, his wife said.
“It’s worked out — knock on wood — really well,” Andrea Spaulding said.
A year after they married, Andrea Spaulding kept telling her husband that she wanted a restaurant, “and this is what I got,” she said, gesturing to the tiny confines.
“He was smart enough to know that running a restaurant is very difficult: The success rate is very low,” she said.
Some patrons stop by on their way to visit F40 Motorsports just up the road. Owner host Wayne Carini is host of the “Chasing Classic Cars” documentary show, which has featured the food truck.
Top Dog’s best years were during the pandemic, Andrea Spaulding said, because they had plastic dividers, tailgaters could enjoy lunch in the open air and customers could socially distance.
“It was some place for people to take their kids and get out of the house," she added.
Now it’s time to retire, Andrea Spaulding said. “I wanted to go 45 years, but, in this day and age, you don’t know what’s around the corner.”
The couple looks forward to traveling in the summertime, including to Alaska. All these years, they could only take vacation in the winter, she said.
“I used to tell him jokingly we should just turn it back into a camper, leave the hot dog on top and go across country,” she said.
The hot dog stand, which opened for the season this year on March 29, has been featured in local media as well as on national TV shows such as "Road Food," and a documentary last year.
Dave Corsino of Plainville queued up in line Wednesday for a kraut dog. “We’re usually passing by here going somewhere else,” he said of he and his companion. “It’s the best hot dogs around."
“We might plan the timing of where we need to be to stop here," he said.
Joe Albert of Portland, who came by with his daughter, said he "grew up" at the hot dog stand. His choice is the spicy chili dog, while his daughter prefers a plain dog with ketchup.
“It’s a good place,” he said.
Michaela Miano, a Mercy High School senior, has been patronizing Top Dog since she was a child. “I have very fond memories of coming here with my mother when I was little; get a great conversation along the way, too," she said. "It’s a staple of living in Portland."
She remembers being made fun of while younger for ordering plain hot dogs, she said, but, “I quickly graduated to putting cheese and/or bacon on them.”
Thurmann’s hot dogs are “the very best,” Andrea Spaulding said.
“They’re natural casing,” her husband said. “People like that. ... In this business, you’ve got to have the best.”
Little toy checker cabs, a black British taxi and a dog figurine shaped like a hot dog on the window counter are gifts from customers. “I have so many at my house,” Andrea Spaulding said.
Two local “celebrities,” Gov. Ned Lamont and Eyewitness News Meteorologist Scott Haney, have been their most notable customers over the years.
Andrea Spaulding was particularly excited about the governor, who stopped by in 2019 with a large entourage, including state troopers, after attending the first Middletown Pride festival. He ordered a chili dog, their most popular style: “He was standing in line like everybody else. I kept looking. You can’t miss Gov. Lamont,” she said.
“I kept hitting my husband, saying, ‘Is that who I think it is?’ He came up to the window and I’m tongue-tied,” she added.
Haney stopped by a few years prior to that on his way to Pumpkintown U.S.A. in East Hampton. “He saw it and came back and had lunch,” Andrea Spaulding said.
Also, Zippy the Pinhead cartoonist Bill Griffith, who lives in East Haddam, featured Top Dog in his comic strip last year. “(Zippy) the clown loves my hot dogs,” Andrea Spaulding said with a chuckle.
At the end of each day, the couple hops into the cab to head home. Inevitably they get waves, stares and beeping horns from motorists, said Andrea Spaulding, who calls it “a riot.”
Top Dog is now up for sale. The couple hopes to find a buyer who is as friendly and enthusiastic about the business as they are.
Hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information, visit Top Dog on Facebook. To inquire about buying the business, text 860-218-4852 (no phone calls) or email [email protected].