Now in its ninety-fifth year of operation, the Texas Hot Restaurant has long been a local institution in Wellsville, New York feeding people from all over the world their famous Texas Hot hot dog’s covered in their secret chili sauce and topped with finely diced onions.
The restaurants origin 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, 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. The men of that time were also in the habit of having their shoes frequently shined and polished.
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, James had the good fortune to meet Mr. Stannards, a local businessman who became a regular customer and took a special liking to him.
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 James 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.
James 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 James—the Poulos’s taking the shoeshine/hat blocking shop, James taking the Texas Hot. It was evident 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, George’s wife was James’s father’s cousin, coming from the same village in Greece. James made George a full partner in the Texas Hot, beginning a close and trusting business relationship that lasted until James’s death in 1981.
Later in the 1920’s, they bought the Texas Hot building from Mr. Stannards with the help of a loan from their good friend George Cretekos.
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. 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 into what it is today.
The Wellsville Texas Hot has been fortunate to have had a second and third generation (and a fourth in the coming decades) of Rigases and Raptises willing to step up and take over the hard work of daily management. Gus Rigas 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 Chris Rigas and Mike Raptis who both also have children that work regularly at the restaurant. It is a tribute to all four generations that in its ninety-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.