Our Founder – Sydney Simon
It is impossible to tell the story of The Original Hot Dog Shop – The “O” -without speaking about its’ founder Sydney Simon. Mr. Simon was a man with incredible heart and character. He was a model for being strong and courageous while facing overwhelming life challenges. Syd lived to be 80, yet, struggled with health ailments. After, he was given slim odds to survive -being in the 1% that lived after diagnosis with melanoma – he lived over twenty years, overcoming three different types of cancer – which was the cause for several surgeries – plus, he had a lifelong struggle with weak eye sight becoming legally blind in his final years.
Through it all there was no obstacle that stood in his way. He was a resilient and loving man who served people. He came from a humble background growing up with siblings Moe and Rosalyn in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh. He was the son of an immigrant mom from Lithuania and a hard working, blue collar father. Syd’s work in the food industry began while he was in high school as he served a Deli in Highland Park for fifteen years. When the Deli closed Syd with his brother Moe decided to open their own store and where would a better place be selling Hot Dogs than in the shadows of Forbes Field during the summer of 1960? Today, Forbes Field is a memory to those over 45 years old in the Oakland community, yet, Syd’s store still stands today in its original location at the corner of Forbes Ave and South Bouquet Street.
The Original Hot Dog Shop started out as “Original Franks and Burgers” Syd and Moe used an old cigar box to hold cash and make change. They developed a secret recipe for their hot dogs and over time began to expand the menu with Fries, Pizza and Sandwiches. Eventually, he expanded the store by adding more seating and an upstairs bar.
Over the years Syd would open new locations in Monroeville PA, Falls Church Virginia, two sites at Carnegie Mellon University, another in Plum Borough, and East Carson Street on the South Side of Pittsburgh. The Original Hotdog Shop was Mr. Simon’s dream and through it he served everyone.
Over the years Syd would work at the store on Thanksgiving and Christmas to provide food for those in need. He always was a friend willing to do whatever it took to serve those who needed help. One incredible display of his heart and character was the lengths to which Mr. Simon went to help a close friend and employee, Nathan Keyes, receive a liver transplant. During the late 1980s Mr. Keyes was told that he would only have a few months to live if he did not receive a liver and the waiting list for a new liver was about eight-teen months long.
Syd Simon knew about tenacity from never giving up through his own continuous battles with cancer and he became an advocate for his friend to receive a new liver. Mr. Simon petitioned the George H.W. Bush administration to help his friend. Amazingly, when there seemed to be little hope, The White House responded to Mr. Simon and Mr. Keyes received a new liver.
Syd Simon’s dedication to serving others did not stop with the Original Hot Dog Shop, he had several patents including products and a clothing line to help the blind. He was an incredibly driven man, who adored his wife Esther (Essie) – who he memorialized in the neon sign outside the Original Hot Dog Shop- and was a loving father to his children Bruce, Larry, Linda & Terry who carry on Syd’s legacy. The “O” is still a family run business today.
Needless to say, the Oakland Community has changed since Syd opened his store in 1960. Yet, The “O” is a throwback in time. It is a place where people came to find a quality hot dog, burgers, fries and friends. Like its’ founder, the store continues to adapt and survive amidst all of the radical change around it. Today, there is much more competition from other restaurants, Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium are memories, the Universities and Hospitals have massively modernized and expanded, yet, the Orginal Hot Dog Shop remains a vibrant token of a bygone era where Syd’s dream and spirit remains layered thick like the Earth itself.