In 1932, John Louis (JL) Mandt and his wife Gertrude opened Huntington’s first Drive-In restaurant. They purchased a little piece of land on Fifth Avenue in Huntington West Virginia, and built, at a cost of $1,750, a tiny building which still stands today, and it was modest, even by depression-era standards.
The menu only consisted of two items, Stewart’s Root Beer and popcorn. Sales for the first day totaled a whopping .50 cents. Business that first year did not meet their expectations so the very next year, the Mandt’s expanded their menu to include a hotdog sandwich, complete with Gertrude Mandt’s mouth-watering chili sauce. Business improved and the second generation was recruited. Their son Harry, and his wife Isabelle, moved from Ohio to help run the business. Little did they realize that four generations later, the business and the little orange drive-in would still be going strong? Even today, Gurtrude’s mouth –watering chili is still prepared by hand…and her secret recipe closely guarded by their great-grandson.
In 1942 JL Mandt passed away and his wife Gertrude, retired. Following her retirement Harry, and Isabelle, became the second generation to own and operate the Little Orange Drive-In. The war years were tough. Two of their main items were meat and sugar. The sugar was needed to make the Root Beer and the meat came from S.S. Logan Packing Co. Both items were heavily rationed, and choosing not to purchase from the black market, when they had used up their yearly quota they had to close. Through all that adversity they persevered, and following the war, business really began to pick up. They worked long hard hours, sacrificing a normal family life in order to build the business and reputation into what it has become today.
In 1951, at the age of thirteen, their son, John Mandt, began working with his parents Harry, and Isabelle. After college and serving his country in the Marine Corps he knew he wanted to continue the success of the family business. He continued working with his parents and after their retirement in the late seventies he became the third generation to own and operate the Little Orange Drive-In. Challenged by the proliferation of many National restaurant chains, John felt in order to maintain their market share he needed to expand. Beginning in 1979 and continuing through 1998 additional locations were added.
In the summer of 1976, at the age of thirteen, John Mandt Jr. began working with his grand-parents Harry, Isabelle, and his father, John Sr. After attending college at Marshall University, John Jr. as did his, great- grand parents, his grand-parents and his father before him, also have the desire to continue working and expanding the family business. He was instrumental in assisting John Sr. during those expansion years. In 1988 John Jr., had an idea, and made a visit to Marshall University’s Athletic Director, to pitch the idea of “Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs” as being the “Official” hot dog of Marshall University. Marshall liked the idea that two Huntington institutions would combine and from that point to the present, “Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs” became the favorite of Marshall’s fans at every sporting event. Sodexo Sports now operates Marshall’s sporting events and through Sodexo Sports “Stewart’s Thunder Dogs” are still sold in the concession stands, and continue to be a big fan favorite. In addition John Jr. developed a catering division of Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs. They now cater parties and company events throughout the Tri-State area. Through the web site he developed, they have shipped via UPS, their famous hot dogs to satisfied customers in all 50 states as well as Germany, Italy, Iraq and South Korea. In 2005, John Jr. in collaboration with the management at Clear Channel Communications founded, “The West Virginia Hot Dog Festival”. It is held every July in Huntington, WV, with the proceeds supporting the Children’s hospital associated with Cabell Huntington Hospital. So far over $125,000 dollars have been raised for the children. John Sr. retired from actively managing the business in 2004 and the responsibility for operations was placed in the capable hands John Jr., the fourth generation.
It all began in 1932, with the idea of John Louis (JL) & Gertrude Mandt. The Little Orange Drive-In on Fifth Avenue in Huntington West Virginia, and all that followed would not have been possible without their vision, dedicated family members, and thousands of dedicated employees, and countless loyal customers!