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Rochester's last three downtown hot dog vendors make a stand

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Food trucks have been soaking up the love in Rochester ever since the city launched a program for mobile restaurants in 2013.

Barely a month goes by each summer without one local news outlet or another doing a story on the “Food Truck Rodeo,” which sounds exciting but is really just a traffic jam of kitchens on wheels in a parking lot.

Lost in all the attention paid to food trucks are Rochester’s original street meat source — the humble hot dog vendor. The few that remain sell more than hot dogs, but who doesn’t think of hot dogs when they see that red and yellow umbrella on the corner?

There was a time that vendors like these lined downtown Main Street, sometimes two per block. The lot of them, reportedly close to 20 in the early 2000s, would enter a lottery for their choice of location every spring. Like food trucks, the city tells them where they can vend.

For the most part, vendors established their turf through attrition. But stories of a vendor drawing a higher number than another and bouncing a competitor from his preferred spot abound.

In 2005, there were reports of hot dog feuds downtown. Warring vendors undercutting each other became so fierce, that customers could find two hot dogs for $1.



Those days are gone, though. As are the days of bustling foot traffic downtown. Today, three stalwart vendors are all that remain downtown with any regularity. They respect each other, and each other’s turf.

These are their stories.

THE MIRANS: ‘COME FOR THE SHOW’
Dave and Sue Miran, who will have been married for 40 years in 2022, have been a beloved "street meat" vending team for decades in downtown Rochester. They have been at the corner of St. Mary's Place and Court Street since 2000. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Dave and Sue Miran, who will have been married for 40 years in 2022, have been a beloved "street meat" vending team for decades in downtown Rochester. They have been at the corner of St. Mary's Place and Court Street since 2000.
The sun was directly overhead and the lineup at Dave’s Sidewalk Café was starting to snake around the corner. That meant Dave Miran was getting antsy.

“When the line jacks around the corner, people start looking at their watches, and when people start looking at their watches, the hair on the back of my neck stands up,” said Miran, who runs the hot dog stand at St. Mary’s Place and Court Street with his wife, Sue Miran.

“If you don’t know what you want when you get to me, it ain’t about me, it’s about the guy behind you and the guy behind him,” Miran said.

Fortunately, Miran has been slinging hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken breasts, and rib eye steaks for so long at the intersection that he knows what most of his customers want by the time they inch up to his grill, where their order is waiting for them.

“Two reds, bro?” Miran asked a man. “You got it,” the man replied.

“Cheeseburger, honey?” Miran asked a woman. “Yes, please,” she said.

“This guy likes his hot dogs black,” he said as he handed a man a burnt wiener on a bun. “I know what he wants. That’s why he keeps coming back. Unless it’s my charming personality.”

“If you’ve come here more than twice I know what you want,” said Miran, who figured he can keep about 20 orders straight in his head and on his grill. “It’s like watching music the way I cook here.”
Dave Miran has cultivated such a loyal customer base that he often knows what his regulars in line want before they reach his cart to order. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Dave Miran has cultivated such a loyal customer base that he often knows what his regulars in line want before they reach his cart to order.
Miran, 64, of Perinton, knows a thing or two about keeping lines moving. He worked an assembly line at General Motors for 10 years before he took a buyout and opened a hot dog stand on Main Street in 1988.

He and his wife have been at their current location since 2000, a move Miran said they made to accommodate their loyal customers at Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield, whose office relocated from Main Street to Court Street at the time.

Miran recalled that he started his business on his 30th birthday with his mother as a helper, while Sue was pregnant with their second son.

Thirty-four years later, their boys are grown and the couple has in them what Miran proudly calls “the trifecta” — a lawyer, a doctor, and an accountant.
The lineups at Dave's Sidewalk Café at St. Mary's Place and Court Street are typical. But they move quickly. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • The lineups at Dave's Sidewalk Café at St. Mary's Place and Court Street are typical. But they move quickly.
In that time, Miran’s menu has grown to 42 items, from the “Piggly Wiggly” to the “Bacon Bleu Burger.” This year, he began offering “The Grant” and “The Papa,” hamburger concoctions named for him and one of his grandsons.

Miran has also earned the distinction of becoming the dean of the downtown hot dog vending delegation, having continuously operated a stand in the city limits longer than anyone. Fellow vendors around town call him “The Godfather.”

“This guy is a like a Rochester monument,” said customer Alex Salcido, of Hamlin, who ordered a blackened ribeye sandwich with meat sauce. “He’s got to be put on some historic list or something.”

Miran gets the glory because his food is tasty and his outsized personality is hard to miss.

“People like that we give them a little show,” he said.

What’s the show?

“I got no filter!” Miran replied. “My wife says, ‘You can’t say the F-word.’ Well, hey, it happens. There are a lot of ways the F-word comes about.”
Dave Miran says of his wife and business partner, Sue Miran: "Without her, I'd be done. We're like a wheel." - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Dave Miran says of his wife and business partner, Sue Miran: "Without her, I'd be done. We're like a wheel."
But Miran acknowledged that his café is a two-person job that he couldn’t do without Sue, who quietly runs the cash register and doesn’t use the F-word around customers.

“Without her, I’d be done,” Marin said of his wife. “We’re like a wheel.”

The Marins will be married 40 years this year. They’re planning to celebrate with a vacation with their children and their families in November — after the vending season.

CHARLIE ABIAD: ‘HE’S LIKE FAMILY’
Charlie Abiad, who is a regular outside of the Monroe County Office Building, is the last hot dog vendor standing on Main Street in downtown Rochester. When he opened his stand in 2001, there were sometimes two vendors per block. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Charlie Abiad, who is a regular outside of the Monroe County Office Building, is the last hot dog vendor standing on Main Street in downtown Rochester. When he opened his stand in 2001, there were sometimes two vendors per block.
Charlie Abiad had no sooner unfurled the red and yellow umbrella on his hot dog cart and left the first handful of freshly chopped peppers and onions on the grill to sizzle one recent morning than his first customers began to hover.

They descended on him at the corner of West Main and Fitzhugh streets in the heart of downtown Rochester seemingly from nowhere.

“What we do is look out the window for the umbrella to see if Charlie is ready,” one of them, Wayman Harris, explained, pointing to the upper level of an office building across the street. “Then we come down in droves. Charlie is our guy.”

Abiad, 43, has been hustling hot dogs and other fare on Main Street for 21 years. He started in the days when the strip was the intersection of government and commerce and lined with carts like his. Today, Abiad is the last vendor standing on Main Street.

He outlasted his competition and, for that matter, most of the private businesses. Many of his customers are employees of the nearby Public Defender’s Office and the Monroe County Office Building, and everyday people who use their services.

His regulars said he has hung around so long because he doesn’t skimp on quality and doesn’t gouge his customers for it, either. That, they said, has made them loyal and made Abiad an honorary member of their clique.
Charlie Abiad's cart is officially named "Joe & Charlie's Grill." The "Joe" is a nod to his late father, who used to help his son by fetching drinks from the cooler for customers. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • Charlie Abiad's cart is officially named "Joe & Charlie's Grill." The "Joe" is a nod to his late father, who used to help his son by fetching drinks from the cooler for customers.
“Everybody looks forward to seeing Charlie,” said Vanessa Beato, a worker at the Board of Elections. “I think if we ended up switching or having another vendor here, we probably wouldn’t be here for lunch. He’s like family. He’s our Charlie.”

It is easy to call Abiad’s business a “hot dog cart” because hot dogs and sausages top the menu. But that label is not entirely accurate. He sells burgers, Philly steaks, chicken and gyro pitas, and is the only cart in town that offers french fries.

“A lot of people love it that I have french fries,” Abiad said. “Not a lot of hot dog carts have a deep fryer in them.”

The cart’s official name is Joe & Charlie’s Grill. The “Joe” is a nod to Abiad’s late father, who used to help his son by fetching customers’ drinks from the cooler.

The business is part slog, part American Dream.

Abiad immigrated to the United States from Lebanon with his family when he was 13 years old. They settled in Spencerport, where Abiad lives with his wife and their two young children today. His uncle, Khalil Abou-eid, had owned the business before him.

“I had no idea this is what I was going to do,” Abiad said. “I came here at 13 scared, didn’t know what was going to happen, my uncle took us in.

“I knew I would eventually want to open my own something,” he went on. “I just didn’t know what.”

When his uncle offered to sell him the business in 2001, Abiad took a chance. To make ends meet, he worked festivals and parades and catered private events.
When Charlie unfurls the red and yellow umbrella on his cart in the morning, it isn't long before customers from nearby office buildings begin to descend on him to sample his eclectic menu. His is the only cart in town that offers french fries. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • When Charlie unfurls the red and yellow umbrella on his cart in the morning, it isn't long before customers from nearby office buildings begin to descend on him to sample his eclectic menu. His is the only cart in town that offers french fries.
He still works a second job in the evening providing security for a private company, but his bread and butter has been his business.

The hours, he said, allow him to see his children off to school each morning and be there for them when they come home.

“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “I’m a pretty happy guy. I’m always smiling. Yeah, I have a stressful life, but what are you gonna do? I don’t let that get to me. I don’t let anything get me down.”

GEORGE HADDAD: HE REFUSES NOBODY
George Haddad, of "Haddad's Best" hot dog stand at Exchange Boulevard and State Street, has been a fixture in downtown Rochester since 1988. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • George Haddad, of "Haddad's Best" hot dog stand at Exchange Boulevard and State Street, has been a fixture in downtown Rochester since 1988.
Most customers who stop by one of the city’s hot dog carts for a bite are average people having an average day.

Few are in the throes of the emotional highs or lows of the customers who frequent George Haddad’s hot dog stand at the corner of Broad Street and Exchange Boulevard.

Situated down the street from the Hall of Justice, the seat of city and county courts and the county jail, and across the street from BlueCross Arena, Haddad waits on people having the best or worst days of their lives.

He feeds judges who are contemplating murder sentences. He feeds newly freed prisoners. He feeds lawyers, from overworked public defenders to high-priced criminal defense attorneys and everything in between. He feeds kids going to a hockey game.

When one of those customers reaches into a pocket to find not enough cash, Haddad shrugs and gives them what he can.

“I respect everyone no matter whether they come from the courthouse, the jailhouse, or wherever,” Haddad said. “Some people have no money. But I never let people go hungry.”

That ethos has made him a favorite among his regulars, some of whom have been known to drive downtown from the farthest reaches of the city for a taste of his wares.
A customer of George Haddad offers a $10 bill to pay for lunch. Ten dollars can go a long way at Haddad's stand, which has the lowest prices of the downtown vendors. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • A customer of George Haddad offers a $10 bill to pay for lunch. Ten dollars can go a long way at Haddad's stand, which has the lowest prices of the downtown vendors.
Gregory Gamble is one such customer. He said he lives in the east end of the city and goes out of his way to stop at Haddad’s stand for his go-to lunch combo meal of a hot dog with peppers and onions, chips, and soda.

“He’s a friendly guy and his food is great,” Gamble said.

Haddad, 62, opened his stand in 1988, making him the second-most senior vendor on the Rochester hot dog circuit.

His “Haddad’s Best” menu touts “quality good foods at reasonable prices,” and is the only cart downtown where a hot dog can still be had for under $4.

Like other vendors, though, he has his specialties. The item of which he’s most proud is his kielbasa, which Haddad figures is the best he has carried in his more than 30 years in the business.

Haddad was a young man and newly arrived from Lebanon when he opened his stand. He recalled living briefly in New York City after arriving in the country and seeing the lineups at the hot dog stands there and thinking, “I can do that.”

After all, he had experience in the food vending business. He said he peddled produce to stores in and around Beirut as a teenager, just as the Lebanese Civil War broke out and set about tearing the city and country asunder.
George Haddad's menu includes the typical hot dog vendor fare. But he insists that his Polish kielbasa is the best he's ever had. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • George Haddad's menu includes the typical hot dog vendor fare. But he insists that his Polish kielbasa is the best he's ever had.
Haddad credited veteran Rochester restauranteur and fellow Lebanese national, Sami Mina, who founded Pomodoro Grill and Aladdin’s Natural Eatery, with helping him get started in the hot dog vending business.

“He said, ‘What do you think, George, you want to be in the hot dog business?’” Haddad recalled Mina asking. “I said, ‘Yeah, but Sami, I don’t have the money.’ He helped me out.”

Haddad opened his first cart at Cobb’s Hill Park, around the time that hordes of traffic were being diverted through the park to make way for construction of the Interstate 490-590 interchange, better known as the “Can of Worms.”

After construction was complete, Haddad moved to the Liberty Pole on Main Street. He was a fixture there for years before settling outside the courthouse in 2014, when he moved to fill a vacuum that was a casualty of the city’s hot dog wars.
George Haddad, whose stand is outside of the county courthouse and jail and BlueCross Arena, often serves people who are having the best and worst days of their lives. - PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN PETRACCA
  • George Haddad, whose stand is outside of the county courthouse and jail and BlueCross Arena, often serves people who are having the best and worst days of their lives.
Most days, he is aided by his wife, Gloria. The couple lives in Rochester and have three children, ranging in age from 8 to 23 years old.

“We are so lucky,” said Haddad, who expressed gratitude for every jurist, lawyer, cop, inmate, court clerk, and journalist who routinely relies on him for lunch.

“I believe in honesty, taking care of everybody, treating people with respect and giving them a good product for good prices,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with that method.”

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.