by John Baeder
One of the finest hot dog trucks I've ever encountered was the Super Duper Weenie truck in Norwalk, Connecticut. The truck was originally owned by Robert Sturner, who currently resides in Carlsbad, California. Sturner sold the truck to Neil Farans, who operated a Texaco station in Norwalk. Neil called me one day asking how he could sell the truck, and I gave him advice. But the truck sat for a few more years, getting bedraggled at the station, until a savior came along and purchased the truck in February 1992. His name was Gary Zemola.
A month later, Gary called me and introduced himself as the new owner. Gary's excitement, immense enthusiasm, and sweet sincerity (not to mention his high energy) captured my attention. I listened eagerly to his story about the wagon purchase. Gary had seen the painting in the original 1978 edition of "Diners" and went in search of the truck. Deep in his heart, he knew it was somewhere to be found. Like an archaeologist on a dig, Gary discovered it. He breathed new life into it, restoring it inside and out. Using my painting as a guide, he took it to the paint shop and then to the sign shop. When it was completed to his satisfaction, Gary and the Super Duper Weenie truck began operations.
For the next seven years, Gary operated the truck seasonally from different locations in and around Fairfield, Connecticut. He established a following of customers who would search out the truck around town and would sometimes wait up to an hour to be served.
By the seventh year, the popularity of the homemade relishes and chili that made the weenies super duper, along with the fresh-cut fries, created a demand that outgrew the capacity of the truck.
What comes next changed everything!
In the summer of 1999, Gary along with his Duka Street neighbors, John and Lorin Pellegrino had an idea. They approached the parents of John and Lorin about the possibility of transforming a little old building on Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield into the permanent location for Super Duper Weenie. Theresa and John Pellegrino enthusiastically agreed and even financed the boys in their endeavor.
From the start, the boys decided that they wanted their new place to be quaint, open and inviting. They agreed that nothing would change from the operation of the truck. All the condiments would be made from scratch on the premises, the fries would still be pressed from fresh potatoes daily, the produce would be purchased only from local farms and purveyors, and the hot dogs and rolls would be made to their specifications.
With many hours of hard work and sacrifice, Gary, John, and Lorin grew their business exponentially. Now, they even have Super Duper Weenie Catering, which brings one of the Super Duper Weenie trucks out to your home, office or school. They have catered affairs that range in size and style from small birthday parties to office outings to weddings. How cool is that!
Through the years, Super Duper Weenie has received many accolades from national publications and food critics, with appearances on PBS in "A Hot Dog Program," The Food Network, "Late Night with David Letterman," Jane & Michael Stern's "Road Food Book," and the Prism Award winning movie, "Bobby Dogs". The boys have catered for Martha Stewart Living, Sandra Lee and Guy Fieri of "Diners Drive-ins and Dives." But their greatest accomplishment is the loyalty from the legions of customers who over the years have made all their success possible.
John Baeder is a Nashville-based artist whose works include paintings of diners and other roadside Americana. You can learn more about John and see examples of his work at www.johnbaeder.com.