|Owner(s)||John and Steve Alexas|
|Food type||hot dogs|
|Street address||34 West Chestnut Street|
|Other locations||Washington Mall|
Shorty's Lunch is a Washington, Pennsylvania-based hot dog lunch counter. A "local landmark," Shorty's has been owned by the Alexas family since the 1930s. It has two locations, including the main facility on West Chestnut Street in Washington, as well as in Canton. The main restaurant has old wooden booths, a dining counter, as well a large storefront, showing the grill to pedestrians.
The trademark menu item is an Albert's frank with chili sauce, mustard and onions, as well as french fries with gravy. The food is inexpensive, with the hot beef dinner being the most expensive menu item at $7. Shorty's main location sells 600-700 hot dogs a day.
The chili sauce is especially favored by customers. The secret recipe takes 4 hours to prepare each 7 to 10 gallon batch. American soldiers serving abroad in England, Germany, Japan, and Vietnam have all received shipments of Shorty's chili sauce in the mail from their mothers. The favored supplier of the hot dogs has changed over time from locations in Germantown, Johnstown, and Green Valley Packing in Taylorstown.
Reputation and customer base
George Alexas, in 1984
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that "[t]he Shorty's name commands a customer loyalty many businesses only dream of developing." That customer loyalty extends to former residents, who make a point to return to Shorty's when they're in town, especially during the holidays. The Observer-Reporter describes Shorty's as having a "local brand recognition that a lot of companies can only dream about" and that a book could be written on the restaurant.
A common belief among customers is that the secret to Shorty's resides within the grill, with many believing that it remains the original from the 1930s. However, when the original grilltop malfunctioned in the 1980s, the custom crafted steel replacement was installed under the cover of night, no one noticed.
Documentarian Rick Sebak regretted not being able to profile Shorty's in his hour-long documentary on hot dog shops, A Hot Dog Program, saying that "There's no other place like it. They haven't changed a thing in there since the place openend in the late 1930s. That's what's great about Shorty's. It has a high funk factor."
Photographs of Shorty's have been sold as fundraisers for the Citizens Library in Washington. In 1993, Shorty's was recognized by the Observer-Reporter for raising funds for the Free Care Fund at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
The shop has claims a wide variety of clientele, ranging from judges to Tex Ritter. During the 2006 Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, Republican candidate Lynn Swann used Shorty's as a campaign stop.
In the 1920s, George Contakos owned Everybody's Lunch on West Chestnut Street from 1924 through 1932, when he bought the Try Me Lunch at 34 West Chestnut Street and renamed it Shorty's Lunch, in honor of his nickname and 5'4" height. In 1938, Peter Alexas became joined with Contorakes to become partners. Partial ownership passed to George Contorakes's son John G. Contorakes, a Washington native and former student at nearby Washington & Jefferson College, until his death in 2001. Shorty's originally operated 24 hours per day; during the first decade of operation, the doors didn't even have locks. However, World War II brought reduced hours because of the lack of workers.
The interior decor and structure has remained relatively unchanged from the original construction, including the 8 original booths that were purchased used during the 1930s.
Threats from development
In 2003, plans for the Crossroads Project, a redevelopment effort in downtown Washington, Pennsylvania, revealed that developer, Millcraft Industries, and the Washington Redevelopment Authority intended to use several "blighted" city blocks to build a private business development, including outlets similar to Grove City Premium Outlets, lofts and apartments designed to attract students from Washington & Jefferson College, and a 1,200 space parking garage. All told, the project would have been as ambitious as the nearby Southpointe development. The $100 million project would have required the demolition of several buildings through eminent domain, including the building housing Shorty's original 34 Chestnut Street location, and would have significant tax breaks through a tax increment financing program.
In spite of offers by the developer to assist with moving costs, the Alexas family refused to move, gathering 23,860 signatures in a petition to keep their current location, an amazing number in a city with a population of 16,000. They received support of local officials, including the town's mayor. The efforts to keep Shorty's open in the face of pressure for developers has inspired other small business owners, including Shelley's Pike Inn in Houston, Pennsylvania. While the effort to raze Shorty's appears to have stalled, the Alexas family has begun to expand into other locations, to protect themselves from future redevelopment efforts. They have pursued a franchising effort to place stores in Southpointe Shopping Plaza, downtown Canonsburg, and Franklin Township.
The owners of the Washington Mall informed the Alexas brothers in late 2004 that they would have to vacate in order for the mall to be turned into a strip shopping center. To replace this store, the Alexas family built another location in Canton Township.
- Ola, Crystal (September 19, 2004). "Project's plan looks bad for Shorty's Lunch". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved April 14, 2010.
- Smydo, Joe (December 5, 2004). "Some mall tenants may stay awhile". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved April 14, 2010.
- Smydo, Joe (December 5, 2004). "Hot dog stand stands up to trouble". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved April 14, 2010.
- Elliot, Suzanne (February 25, 2005). "Hot Dog, we won't go!". Pittsburgh Business Times. Retrieved April 14, 2010.
- Templeton, David (December 16, 1984). "Same Ol' Shorty's". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- "No Headline". Observer-Reporter. November 29, 2003. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
Part of the Thanksgiving tradition for many former Washington area residents returning for the holiday is a visit to Shorty's Lunch on West Chestnut Street in Washington. At the height of the day-after Thanksgiving lunch rush Friday, customers waiting for a seat at the 70-year-old landmark stood outside in a drizzling rain. Co-owner Steve Alexas estimated he had sold about 1,000 hot dogs by 3 p.m....
- Bradwell, Michael (October 17, 2004). "Development makes longtime business' future uncertain". Observer-Reporter. pp. A1. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
George Alexas and his sons have a business with local brand recognition that a lot of companies can only dream about. For more than 70 years, Shorty's Lunch has been a downtown Washington fixture, serving hot dogs, french fries and sodas to a lunchtime crowd from the same place at 34 W. Chestnut Street. If you tell people to meet you at Shorty's, they don't ask for directions..."
- "Hot dog store flees cooling mall". Observer-Reporter. April 30, 2005. pp. B1. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
Stop now if you don't think you're up to reading still another story about Shorty's Lunch. There will be more to come on that subject, you can make book on that. This story is about the Shorty's at the Washington Mall, which is closing for good tonight, and about the opening of a Shorty's in Wolfdale. See, it's safe to keep reading as this story has absolutely nothing to do with downtown Shorty's,...
- Smialek, Byron (July 29, 1999). "Frankly, a show on hot dogs". Observer-Reporter. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- "Library fundraiser features local restaurant notecards". Observer-Reporter. December 9, 2009. pp. B3. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- "A Giving Recipe". Observer-Reporter. December 7, 1993. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- "Lunch Landmark". The Pittsburgh Press. December 16, 1984. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- Miller, Barbara S. (November 4, 2006). "Swann Campaign Swings Through Washington Co". Observer-Reporter. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- "John G. Contorakes Former part-owner of Shorty's Lunch". Observer-Reporter. July 28, 2001. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- Smydo, Joe (April 13, 2003). "Southpointe developer wants to revitalize Washington, but what about what's there now?". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- Bradwell, Michael (November 21, 2004). "Shorty's Fight is Sign of the Times". Observer-Reporter. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- Metz, Linda (September 14, 2004). "Shorty's owners want details about TIF plan". Observer-Reporter. pp. B1. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- Templeton, David (December 12, 2004). "David Templeton's Seldom Seen: Beleaguered Pike Inn vows to feed fans again". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved April 14, 2010.