ZACK'S WORLD FAMOUS HOT DOGS
Cartoonists have used ZZZZ's to represent sleep in their artful cells. The last word in my 1953 Webster's Collegiate Dictionary is "zymurgy." Neither of these has anything to do with my recent fascination with the "Z's".
A visit by a longtime friend, Zack Zuber, has prompted my memories of bygone days, and of the Zuber and Zackary families. How many people do you know with a last name beginning with the letter Z? Zack was in town to attend his class reunion for the Lufkin High School Class of 1954. He's a professor who for many years has resided in San Diego, California.
I told young Zack that I had always wondered what his mother, Vivian Zachary, and his father, Mr. Zuber, had to say to each other about the "Z's" finally meeting. Romance was inevitable.
We had a wonderful visit, driving over to Nacogdoches to tour the Visitor Center and the Main Street Antique stores. During the day, I began to recount stories of my memories about Zack and his family, and particularly about Mr. "Zack" Zackary, his grandfather. Since Zack had seen some of my memory stories on the "AL-LIES" disc, I was surprised when he asked that I write the stories I had related to him about his grandfather. But, you asked for it Zack, and secretly, I take great pleasure in my memories of this delightful man.
The building which housed Zack's World Famous Hot Dogs has been leveled. Here it stood, in this neat little park backed by a mural depicting the history of commerce in Lufkin, where cotton was king.
Mr. Zachary operated Zack's restaurant in downtown Lufkin during the depression years. It closed shortly after the end of World War II. I can't recall when it actually began business, but it was probably in the mid-twenties. I first became aware of Zack's in the mid-thirties. I graduated in 1941, and during my high school days, Zack's was high on my list of hangouts. And after service days in World War II, Zack's was one of my first stops on returning to Lufkin. It was located in a red brick building, just across Lufkin Avenue from the Perry Brother's building main entrance. The site was central to downtown Lufkin, just one-half block off Cotton Square. A small park is now dedicated to the spot where Zack's once stood.
Rare as it is for me, I choose to be honest. "Zack's" was not really a restaurant, not even a cafe. Paul Harvey once related the difference between a restaurant and a cafe. He said, "A restaurant serves food on a warmed plate. Not so in a cafe." There were no plates at Zack's place. His menu featured only one item, hot dogs, the icon of American sandwich fare. A Zack hot dog was not exactly a culinary delight. You could order one with sauerkraut, onions, cheese or special sausage, but you wouldn't get it. None of the above was on the menu at "Zack's." Zacks dog was just chili and wiener.
I'm having a bit of trouble with this honesty thing, especially when I think of the wiener, or even the chili in a Zack hot dog. Let me explain. In the beginning Mr. Zackary's dog consisted of the bun, chili and a whole wiener. I believe I mentioned that it was served during the years of the depression. And a "Zack's" hot dog was only five cents. This was a bargain for anyone in those times. Many of his customers who were well off, ate two or three at a setting. You'll learn of the veracity of this statement, when you read the notes below from renowned radio and television personality (and now author), Murphy Martin.
A cold bottled drink from a big red Coca Cola ice chest was also a nickle, but later went to ten cents. Now, here comes the honest part. As the depression deepened, wiener prices increased. Rather than change the price for his hot dog, Mr. Zachary cut the wiener down the middle lengthwise, and kept the cost at five cents. And sometime during the war the wiener took another cut. Bun, chili and a fourth of a wiener was still five cents. Mr. Zachary made no secret of the fact that he used oatmeal to give body to the chili served on the bun.
Josh Duncan remembers a small sign that was displayed at Zack's. It read: "In 1926 hot dogs were just a nickle... and they're still just a nickle." I don't actually remember the 1926 part, but my friend, Josh, thinks the date is correct, and his memory is certainly better than mine.
Another item helped add to the flavor of Zack's hot dogs. Always found on the counter was a small bottle of hot sauce, not the major brand of Tabasco Sauce, but hot sauce nonetheless.
I can assure you that he had as many friends as any businessman in downtown Lufkin. He was always kind and personable to those who warmed the stools at his U-shaped counter. No tables, plates or silverware. Most of the interior light came through the front window. I remember only a single light fixture over the counter and another in his kitchen. Yet, he would carry a tab for you, without interest.
Mr. Zachary's Mantooth Street home as it appears today is now owned by Zack Zuber.
One example of this came from a returning serviceman. Mr. Zachary walked from his business in downtown Lufkin to his home on Mantooth street. His route took him two blocks up the railroad tracks along Angelina street. That is where the serviceman saw him walking to work one morning. The young man hailed Mr. Zachary and said he left for the service in a great hurry, and owed a tab at "Zack's." Without a moment's hesitation, Mr. Zachary said, "That's okay, it was only ninety five cents." The young man paid the tab. Mr. Zachary didn't need a bookkeeper. While Mr. Zachary was always glad to extend credit, he had a colorful reply to those who came in and said, "How's my credit, Zack?" His proverbial retort was, "Not worth a damn."
He had a winning way about him, and won the respect of all who visited his fine "restaurant." A while back, two old vets were remembering their visits to "Zack's." John Odom and Ernest Rutland recalled that they were always greeted as Mutt and Jeff by Mr. Z. During the war, John dropped by Zack's, wearing his Marine uniform while on leave. Mr. Zachary's quick greeting was, "Hello, Jeff, where's Mutt?"
I so enjoyed the visit with Zack Zuber. And one of the priceless tid bits I picked up from him, was the first name of his grandfather. The man we had always known as "Zack" Zachary, had a first name I had never heard. His name was Vivian.
Fate Murphy recently reminded me that Mr. Zachary had two waiters over the years, but never more than one at a time. One was Gaylord Gentry, and the other, always known as "Little Zack," was Edgar Austin.
In the war years, servicemen associated certain things that immediately made them think of their beloved home. I've heard one story reminiscent of this. A Shelby County boy was in Burma during World War II. It was a cold, dark and dreary rain-soaked night in the high mountain Burmese camp. He was strolling past a series of tents, carrying a lantern. As he sloshed along, looking for his tent, he heard the sounds of a dice game. From that tent, like a bolt from the blue, came the words: "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair." The soldier knew he had found someone from home, because only in East Texas do crap shooters utter that famous cry when coming out and looking for the dice to turn up "ten".
The origin of "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair" came first from old Southern Pacific Conductors on passenger trains through Shelby county in East Texas, announcing the next four stops for the train. It was later adopted as a dice shooters plea for the six-four or the double five.
So, why did I name this little story, "Zack's World Famous Hot Dogs?" It just rings like a great big bell, when I recall that anywhere in the world two old Lufkin boys got together during the war, the very first thought was, "Don't you wish we were back home enjoying a hot dog at Zack's?"
I sent the "Zack" story to my young friend Murphy Martin, in Dallas. He, too, had memories of "The World Famous Zack's Hot Dog."
Fond memories of Lufkin always included a few stories about Zack's. One of my favorites occurred after our great Sleepy Read Orchestra had rented the dance hall at Lookout Mountain (Love's Lookout) in Jacksonville, Texas, to promote our OWN dance. The turnout was less than good, and Sleepy decided he would settle up with everyone at Zack's--including those who owned the two cars that took us there and back. Arriving at Zack's at about 1 AM -- Sleepy paid the two car owners their expenses. He had already deducted the rental of the hall. When he divided what was left-- each of us in the band had seventy-five CENTS coming. With those three quarters-- I had three hot dogs and two soft drinks and still had a quarter left for my night's work at Love's Lookout.(By this time, Zack's prices had doubled, with both hot dogs and drinks going to l0 cents each. AV)My other Zack story occurred during a War Bond Drive while I worked at KRBA. You remember from time to time we took all the airtime and sold War Bonds during WWII. Well, I took a lunch break that day-- went to Zack's for a "dog" and while there I asked Zack if he wanted to buy a War Bond. Without hesitation he said, "yes he would". I asked how much do you want to buy--thinking he would probably say one or two hundred dollars. I nearly fell off the stool when he said FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS worth. After I recovered--I asked how do you want them made out--then for the first time in my life I learned his name. He said, "Make it out to V. Zachary." With great appreciation, I left with an indelible impression to add to my young life.I believe the last paragraph is a great example of Mr. Zachary's generosity, and it was this facet of Mr. Z's character that accounted for his success. Using the nickle as the first step to the accomplishments of his lifetime, he was nonetheless generous with his dollars.
All the best, Murphy
And, I wouldn't want to miss the chance to add that Murphy's consumption of Zack-dogs likely resulted in his success as a broadcaster. It took gas.
Be sure to tell your friends about Murphy's book, "Front Row Seat," now in bookstores.