On a stretch of Route 18 in Atlasburg, Bert’s Hot Dog Shop has slowly made itself legendary by serving delicatessen-worthy cased meat meals for more than 60 years.
“It’s very unique,” said owner Bert Bertolotti. “Very excellent food. I personally, as the owner, eat here several times a week.”
When it was founded in the early ’60s by Bert’s grandfather, Marino, the location also consisted of a dance hall and a gas station. While the other two busninesses are no more, the hot dogs they served have become part of the fabric of the community.
Bertolotti said that very much had to do with one special topping many of the dogs come served with.
“My grandfather started a chili sauce recipe here that consists of all meat,” Bertolotti said. “It has a little bite to it, a little crushed pepper.”
Rich Lounder of Hickory said he lives for hot dogs, and Bert’s does chili best.
“I’ve gotta say, I’m pretty much of a connoisseur of the hot dog,” Lounder said. “As my kids like to tell me, a pretty heavy connoisseur. I’ve had hot dogs from the Midwest all down the East Coast, Chicago, everywhere, and I can’t find a chili to match his chili anywhere.”
Over the years, the hot dogs have become so well known in the area that Bert took to calling his dogs “rural famous.”
“At one time, people from Japan came over to visit Mt. Lebanon and they came down to taste the hot dogs,” Bertolotti said. “They come back every year or so. We threw a little twist in there from saying it was world famous because we have people from all over that come.”
The location of the hot dog shop means it is a prime lunchtime stop for many of the truck drivers who haul down this busy stretch. Karen Rush, 62, of Washington, stopped by during her lunch break while driving a truck for Tarr Concrete.
“I come here at least once a week,” Rush said. “I’ve been eating them here for years.”
Rush said she would often take rides to the local hot dog eatery with her parents when she was a little girl.
The building in which Bert’s Hot Dogs resides is what could be classified, lovingly, as a hole-in-the-wall. But while many restaurateurs would shy away from that descriptor, Bert has embraced it wholeheartedly.
“When my mother passed away seven years ago, we had to reestablish codes for the health department,” Bertolotti said. “I wanted to actually make the place really, really, really nice for the people to come in and sit, but several people stopped in and said, ‘Please don’t change this, if you change this I’m not coming back. Leave it the way it is.’”
With its Port-o-John restroom facility, gas-fired stove heating and mismatched furniture, Bert’s indoor dining room is small and quaint, to say the least. But Bert said he has no plans to change it anytime soon.
“I think that’s the uniqueness of Bert’s Hot Dog Shop,” Bertolotti said.
The bare-essential feel of the structure gives the diner a hominess factor, for sure. But Bert argues it’s the at-home service that makes customers truly comfortable.
Pauline Wojcik, 75, of Avella, said her part-time gig at Bert’s was more of a hobby than a living.
“None of us have to work,” Wojcik said. “I do it just to get out of the house. I get to meet a lot of people, and it’s great to see the generations coming back from out of state.”
Bert’s also gets help from a group of volunteers who spend mornings holding court in the dining area.
“It’s like an Owl’s Club,” Bertolotti said about the group of elderly gentlemen who enjoy morning coffee. “They sit in there for hours and hours. It’s been like that since way back in the day.”
Bertolotti said both the service and the rapport with customers were carry-overs from the days his mother, Helen, ran the hot dog shop.
“My mother was everything to this shop,” Bert said. “She would give you the shirt off her back, that’s the type of woman my mom was. That’s what I hope to carry on, and that’s what I hope my kids try to carry on at this place because that’s the most important thing, you know?”