Cousins -- a dentist and a stockbroker -- are carrying on the tradition of one of the Valley's oldest family restaurants.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
BOARDMAN -- Eighty-one years after Mahoning Valley consumers got their first taste of a Greek immigrant's secret hot-dog sauce recipe, the owners of Jay's Famous Hot Dogs have decided to franchise the longtime family run business.
The first franchised Jay's opens later this month at 5185 Youngstown-Warren Road in front of MCI Worldcom in Niles. It will also be the chain's first eatery in Trumbull County.
Dr. Frank Petrakos, 33, a dentist with offices in Canfield and North Lima and the son of Jay's owner Sam Petrakos, owns the new Niles restaurant. Although a member of the family, the doctor is not an owner in the original business.
"I love dentistry, but the restaurant business is in my blood," he said.
The menu: The Niles store menu will feature the same "secret-recipe" hot-dog sauce, fresh-cut fries and gyro sandwiches that have kept Jay's in business since 1920.
"We'll also have the same open concept we have at all our restaurants," Dr. Petrakos said. "You can watch us preparing the food. We have nothing to hide."
James Pappas, a Greek immigrant, opened the first Jay's Famous Hot Dogs on Federal Plaza in 1920 when Youngstown's downtown was bustling.
Selling hot dogs with sauce for five cents apiece and homestyle dishes like chili, beef stew and stuffed cabbage, Pappas' restaurant was a success from the start. In the 1940s the downtown restaurant began serving liquor and stayed open 24 hours.
In 1960 Sam Petrakos, who had been living in Canada after immigrating from Greece a few years before, moved to Youngstown to marry the founder's niece Marina and took over the business. "It was one of the biggest bars in Youngstown in those days," he said.
Expansion: Sam's brother Frank relocated to the area a few years later, and the two men worked together through the years, expanding the chain to include five company-owned restaurants. Their secret, the brothers agreed, was good food -- all fresh, nothing frozen -- and a friendly atmosphere.
"When you have a restaurant, you've got to be friendly to the people. You've got to talk to the people," said Sam Petrakos, who still speaks with a strong Greek accent.
"And you've got to check the dishes, see what they ate. That's how you know if the food is good."
Now Frank's son Gregory, 34, a financial adviser for First Union Securities, is the owner of the Boardman Jay's and spends a few hours there every week. He credits his father for building the Boardman store's business and keeping the regular customers coming back.
"My Dad always said working here was like going to a party and getting paid," he said. "He loved the business, and he instilled that in me."
Sam still owns the chain's other stores in Austintown, Campbell, on Youngstown's West Side and in the Phar-Mor Plaza downtown.
Sam, 70, and the elder Frank, 67, are both retired, but they stop in at the restaurants often to inspect the kitchens and dining rooms but, more importantly, to visit with the customers, many of them now friends.
"I'm gonna be there," Sam Petrakos said, "and that's the way it's going to be with the new restaurants, too. I want to make sure things are done right."
Third venture: The new Jay's franchise is actually Dr. Petrakos' third venture in the restaurant business.
As a college student he ran a lunch stand, Frank's Hamburgers, next to the Jay's stand in the Phar-Mor Plaza downtown. More recently he ran the Jay's hot-dog stand at the South High School Field House for the now-defunct Youngstown Hawks basketball games.
"That was what really got me thinking about a franchise," he said. "There was something about the family tradition. I wanted to continue it."
He said he was surprised to learn how complex the franchising process is. The family worked with Franchising Unlimited in Canfield, a company specializing in the legal aspects of franchises, and the process took about a year.
The owners agreed to keep their franchising fee moderate -- Jay's basic franchise fee is $25,000, and they estimate it would cost a franchisee about $40,000 more for the necessary equipment and furnishings.
Based on those estimates, Dr. Petrakos said a franchisee could start with an investment of about $65,000, plus the lease or purchase cost of the building, which he said is lower than most fast-food franchises. Franchisees will also pay royalties on their sales.
Dr. Petrakos said the company has already had inquiries about potential locations in Columbiana and Salem, but no contracts have been signed. Plans are to expand locally first, within a 20- to 30- mile radius, before taking Jay's "famous" hot dogs to Cleveland, Pittsburgh and beyond.
Renovations at some of the company's other restaurants are also in the works. He said the family has already obtained estimates on refurbishing its busy Boardman store and is also considering improvements for the Austintown and West Side eateries. "That's our next project," he said.