Photo by Sydney Cromwell.
Three of Sneaky Pete’s famous hot dogs are, from left, a chili cheese dog, the Original Sneaky Pete’s dog and the Junkyard Dog.
The classic hot dog is a staple of barbecues and baseball games, but Sneaky Pete’s is not your ordinary hot dog. With toppings like chili, coleslaw, bacon and the famous Sneaky Pete’s Sauce, these deliciously unique hot dogs have long made Sneaky Pete’s a statewide franchise and a Mountain Brook favorite.
Sneaky Pete’s full menu includes breakfast foods, burgers, chicken and taco salad, but the most popular item remains the Original Sneaky Pete’s hot dog, topped with onions, sauerkraut, mustard and the Sneaky Pete’s sauce. Other popular hot dogs include the chili cheese dog, the slaw dog and the Junkyard Dog, which comes with every topping. While the hot dogs are a somewhat messy affair, the taste can be worth the risk of a sauce-stained shirt.
Pete Graphos founded Sneaky Pete’s in 1966, with a single restaurant on 8th Avenue South in Birmingham. It was one of many Birmingham hot dog stands and shops opened by Greek immigrants, including Gus’s Hot Dogs, Tom’s Koneys, Lyric Hot Dogs and Dino’s Hot Dogs. Not all of these shops survived, but Sneaky Pete’s flourished. Today, the chain is headquartered in Vestavia Hills and has 34 locations across Alabama.
Mountain Brook residents and employees started coming to their local Sneaky Pete’s for its quick, affordable meals, but they became regulars because of its comfortable, friendly atmosphere. Conversation flows freely across the tables and behind the counter between customers and staff who have known each other for years.
“It’s real friendly. Saturdays here are kind of like a family day,” said restaurant owner John Ragusa. “It’s real lively. Everybody talks to everybody.”
Ragusa has worked at Sneaky Pete’s since 1990 and owned the Mountain Brook location since 1998. In those 24 years he has seen the universal appeal of hot dogs draw in every kind of customer, from young families and couples to construction workers and white-collar businessmen. Many of them have been eating at Sneaky Pete’s long enough for Ragusa to memorize their orders and watch some of them grow up.
“We’ve got some of the best customers in the world here,” Ragusa said. “We’ll have kids in their 20s and 30s [who] were coming here when they were a child.”
Although the franchise has grown and changed, Ragusa and the Original Sneaky Pete’s Hot Dog continue to be a fixture of “great food and good folks” in the Mountain Brook community.
“Keeping the employees happy, keeping the customers happy; it’s a daily challenge but it’s fun,” Ragusa said.