John Rigas, August 7, 2006
(Dad) Texas Hot Origins
Now in its eighty-fifth year of operation, the Texas Hot Restaurant has long been a local institution in Wellsville, New
York. Over the years, innumerable people have remarked to me that a trip to Wellsville is incomplete without a stop at
the Texas Hot and a few of those hot dogs.
Although most people in these parts have been to the Texas Hot many times, few people know the story of how the
restaurant got started. It is a story like so many others in our nation’s history—that of young, hard-working immigrants
striving to capture a tiny part of the American dream.
In 1912, at the age of seventeen, my father, James Rigas, emigrated from the impoverished village of Arahova in the
mountains of central Greece to seek a better life in America. He initially settled in Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania, where he
worked in the paper factory, unloading heavy logs from the trains and hauling them to the factory. Though accustomed
to hard work, like most Greek immigrants from that era, he aspired to owning his own business.
Before long, he and two other Greek immigrants—the Poulos brothers—opened a small hat blocking and shoeshine
store in Olean, New York, located at a trolley stop near the intersection of State and Union Streets. For those of you
too young to know about hat blocking, it is a process for cleaning hats. In those days, practically every man and
woman in America wore a hat that required regular cleaning, usually at a specialized shop like my father’s. The men of
that time were also in the habit of having their shoes frequently shined and polished. As an added attraction, Pop and
the Poulos boys kept a couple of pool tables in the backroom.
When their lease in Olean was not renewed, the young entrepreneurs were forced to look for a new location. After
finding a suitable building in Wellsville, in Allegany County, they moved their business thirty miles eastward. There, my
father had the good fortune to meet Mr. Stannards, a local businessman who became a regular customer and took a
special liking to Pop. While having his shoes shined, Mr. Stannards would say how much he enjoyed a new food
called a Texas Hot (a hot dog on a steamed bun coated with mustard, covered with a spicy chile sauce, and topped
with onions), and how it was too bad that Wellsville, unlike other towns in Western New York and Northwestern
Pennsylvania, did not have a restaurant which sold these hot dogs. Repeatedly urging Pop to fill this void, Mr.
Stannards finally convinced him and his partners to begin a new venture. Renting space in a vacant building owned by
Stannards, the men opened the Texas Hot Restaurant in November of 1921 at its current location on Main Street.
Pop at this time knew nothing about running a restaurant, or even about cooking. But he did have some Greek friends
who owned a Texas Hot in Olean. Jim Pappas and Anthony Primakaris generously taught him the art of making chile
sauce, pies, and other staples of a diner menu.
After about a year, the Poulos brothers decided that the hard grind of the restaurant business was not for them, and
they elected to separate from Pop—the Poulos’s taking the shoeshine/hat blocking shop, my father the Texas Hot. It
was evident to Pop, however, that he could not run the restaurant on his own. It was open seven days a week,
requiring him to be there for many, many long hours. He immediately thought of George Raptis, a friend from the
Johnsonburg paper factory and a man he knew to be industrious and honest. In addition, Mr. Raptis’s wife was my
father’s cousin, coming from the same village in Greece. Pop made Mr. Raptis a full partner in the Texas Hot,
beginning a close and trusting business relationship that lasted until Pop’s death in 1981.
Later in the 1920’s, Pop bought the Texas Hot building from Mr. Stannards with the help of a loan from his good friend
George Cretekos. Along with his brother Gus, George Cretekos had started a candy and ice cream parlor in Wellsville
in 1905. By the late 1920’s, it was a very popular spot, particularly for high school students, a distinction it would hold
for several more decades. Mr. Cretekos’s son Steve, a long-time grill man in the Texas Hot, became an institution in
his own right and is still a customer favorite in the restaurant.
The structure on Main Street was more than just a business to us. It was our home as well. About the time he opened
the restaurant, my father began living in an apartment above the Texas Hot. He married my mother in a Greek
Orthodox wedding ceremony in this apartment. I was later born in the apartment. When George Raptis first moved to
Wellsville, he, his wife, and their three children lived with us in the apartment for a time before moving to their own
apartment next door. And sixty years after serving his first customer in the Texas Hot, my father died in the apartment.
The Texas Hot in 1921 was a much different restaurant than it is today. Upon entering, a customer would see a long
counter and a few white imitation marble tables surrounded by wooden chairs. The men sat at the counter. The tables
were set up for the benefit of female customers, since it was not considered proper in that era for women to be seen
eating at a counter. One of my fondest recollections of the early restaurant was a sign in the left-hand corner of the
front window that advertised, “Tables for Ladies.” How times have changed! The booths that are currently in the
Texas Hot were installed in the mid-1930’s.
Until after World War II, the Texas Hot was almost exclusively a workingman’s restaurant, attracting Wellsville’s blue-
collar workers and farmers from the surrounding countryside in Allegany County. Back then, schoolteachers and other
professional people generally frequented Wellsville’s fancier eating-places.
The Texas Hot struggled in the beginning. Couples and families rarely ate outside the home. The coffee break was not
yet an accepted practice in offices and shops. There would be a few busy hours at breakfast before work started, and
then another rush at lunch as workers streamed in from local factories and construction projects. But by 1:30 the
restaurant was practically empty, and it stayed that way until a few customers came in for dinner. At night, any business
depended on when the Babcock Theater, located on the corner, let out. On Saturdays, farmers and their families
coming to town to do their weekly shopping made the Texas Hot one of their regular stops. Over the years, the
restaurant gradually gained patrons from the nearby merchants and their employees, and the amount of business grew
continually larger and steadier.
It took many decades for the Texas Hot to establish itself as a local institution, but my father laid the groundwork from
the very beginning. Recognizing that the key to a good Texas Hot hot dog is the taste of the chili sauce, he would
experiment endlessly with the recipe for the sauce, using his special talent for improving flavors to discover just the right
combination of spices. The sauce he developed is still being served today. Likewise, he was determined not only to
master other people’s recipes for pies and pancakes but to put his own improved mark on what he offered customers.
He also insisted that certain details be carefully tended to. The pies had to be freshly baked each morning and then
displayed in the restaurant’s right-hand window. The hot meals had to be really hot when served. The floors had to be
swept several times every day. For nearly sixty years, in short, he dedicated himself to those day-to-day tasks that
ensured his customers received clean, quick, and polite service. In addition, Pop had the type of personality that
enabled him to form friendships easily with customers and employees, helping to make the Texas Hot a place where
people liked to gather. It was this nice way about him, as well as his constant attention to work, which got the
restaurant started and moved it steadily ahead, slowly building a reputation that stood out in the area.
One of the traits that made Pop so likeable was his tremendous loyalty to people. As just one example, he allowed
George Raptis to leave the Texas Hot and then come back as a full partner three different times. Mr. Raptis and his
wife maintained a strong attachment to the Greek culture, and for many years they dreamed of moving back to Greece
so that their children could be raised in that culture. Each time they made the move, however, things failed to work out
as they had hoped, causing them to return to Wellsville and the Texas Hot. On the third occasion, immediately prior to
Greece’s entry into World War II, they barely made it back at all, catching one of the very last passenger ships out of
the country. Each time they asked to return, Pop welcomed them with open arms.
For his part, George Raptis complemented my father extremely well. Loyal, dependable, and highly diligent, he
willingly worked the less desirable night shift for decades, allowing Pop to be home with his family during those hours.
With George, there was never a question about dinner or late-night customers receiving inferior service. This was a
partnership that shared values and work.
The Wellsville Texas Hot was also fortunate to have had a second and third generation of Rigases and Raptises willing
to step up and take over the hard work of daily management. My brother Gus and Jim Raptis took needed steps to
modernize the restaurant—remodeling the interior, installing air conditioning, introducing soft ice cream—while wisely
leaving the menu largely untouched, with the Texas Hot hot dog, of course, remaining the main attraction. They in turn
have been followed by my nephew Chris Rigas and Mike Raptis. It is a tribute to all three generations that in its eighty-
five year history, the Texas Hot has grown from a struggling start-up lunch room to what has long since been Wellsville’
s central gathering place for people from all walks of life.
As I compare the Wellsville of today to that of sixty or seventy years ago, I am struck by the fact that one of the very
few parts of Main Street that remains the same is the Texas Hot. When I ask returning Wellsville natives what they
miss most about the area, they usually say, well, first, the hills, but, second, the Texas Hot. Whether originally from
Wellsville or not, all familiar with the Texas Hot, I think, would agree that it has provided many warm memories—of
good times, of faithful customers, of dedicated employees, and for those of us old enough to remember, of a
determined immigrant with a unique ability to learn and develop recipes and to build camaraderie among customers.