WYTHEVILLE — The Skeeter-Dog and baby Coke are back.
Skeeter’s World Famous Hot Dogs reopened on June 21, and the red Gwaltney wiener smothered in chili and cheese remains popular.
New manager David Clark said some days’ sales have been double or triple what he expected.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Clark said. “We definitely didn’t want to change anything, but we definitely wanted to revitalize it.”
Returning workers Melissa Taylor and Heather Hoback made it a lot easier than it would have been otherwise, he said.
“We’re still tweaking here and there,” Taylor said. “We still have our regular customers that we like hanging out with and talking to and then meeting all kinds of new people — keeping it the way it was.
“Most folks come in here for the nostalgia and the pink dog and that baby Coke,” she added.
Taylor had her first taste of a Skeeter-Dog with her dad, who taught her to eat them with chili and cheese. Today, “The Works” with slaw and onion added are her thing.
Taylor said she’s worked off and on at Skeeter’s over the past 20 years. She had returned and was working for the former owners, Farron and Bill Smith, when they closed the doors on March 9 after longtime manager, Wanda Rodgers, became ill.
The Smiths said they had been thinking of selling the business for a while and decided to keep it closed while they looked for a buyer. After several interested parties came forward, the Smiths sold to their longtime business partners and friends, Debbie and Dale Clark. David, 27, is the Clarks’ son.
The Skeeter’s sale was announced on May 30 — 30 years to the day when the Smiths purchased it from the founding Umberger family.
As she waited for the diner to reopen, Taylor said she started to miss her Skeeter-Dog fix, so she’s glad to be back.
“Our new folks are awesome so far,” she said of the Clarks. “They’re down-to-Earth people who want to keep the tradition alive.”
Heather Hoback came to work at Skeeter’s just before Thanksgiving, but like most Wytheville natives she had eaten there since she was a little girl.
“My dad would bring me in here, and he would order like three hot dogs,” Hoback said. “He would eat his in two bites, and I just thought my dad was amazing because he ate the hot dogs so quickly.
“Everybody’s got a story,” Hoback said. “People who grew up here and then moved away, they all come back. We’ve got people from all over who stop in when they’re in town.”
Those customers will recognize the menu and the traditional Skeeter-Dog choices. Now, though, they have more options.
Clark has implemented a line of “regional classics” — five hot dogs modeled on ball park favorites from across the country. There’s a Fenway Park version call “The Sox” and the “Cheese Coney” familiar to Cincinnati Reds fans, among others.
A sixth dog, the “Big Tex” is a David Clark creation: chili, cheese, bacon and jalapenos.
“It’s all my favorite things on a hot dog,” he said.
While the Skeeter-Dogs are the big sellers, of the new items, “Big Tex” is the most popular, Clark said.
A keen golfer, Clark said he has worked in and around clubhouse restaurants and grills since his high school days in Wytheville and into college in Richmond.
“But managing one is a new experience,” he said.
Clark said he’s already spent one late night snaking a clogged drain, and this past weekend he planned to get familiar with a busted deep fryer.
Running a 94-year-old downtown institution comes with pressures.
“I feel like I owe the town as well as the community to make sure this place stays open and hits the quality mark that they want,” Clark said. “It’s a big responsibility; I don’t take it lightly.”
E.N. Umberger opened his namesake store in 1925, where he sold groceries, garden seeds, penny candy and 5-cent hot dogs. Eventually the wieners became the focus.
When E.N. Jr. — nicknamed “Skeeter” by his mother — took over, the hot dogs became “Skeeter-Dogs,” and the restaurant went from The E.N. Umberger Store to “Skeeter’s.”