The faded black sign wearing the name Jack’s in front of the small brown building just off of Main Street may not look like much, but for many the hot dog stand is deeply embedded in the roots of North Adams.
While several community members have been ordering from Jack’s barstools since they were small children, it’s even become a tradition for several students. Former MCLA student and Beacon Editor in Chief John Durkan was quick to talk about his connection to Jack’s.
“I love Jack’s, it’s a nice and cozy place. Mike and Jess always know that I either want a cheese steak or chicken from the freezer when I come in,” said Durkan.
It’s easy to see why Berkshire residents as well have fallen in love with Jack’s. The old fashioned milk vendor, its bar-like set up, and of course the giant over-head sign presenting low prices stick out immediately. The one thing that really stands out though, is its old-fashioned grill where burgers, bacon, and hot dogs are cooked from open until close.
Not only does this grill look well-aged, but it’s actually as old as the prominent hot dog stand itself: 95 years old. Still being the sole provider of the Jack’s menu, the grill will be celebrating its one hundreth birthday soon enough with the restaurant and its employees.
“Just look on the Jack’s website archive, and you’ll see the same grill from a picture taken in 1917,” said customer Jeff Sylvester.
In fact, Sylvester knows more about Jack’s history than just about anyone. He’s been coming to the hot dog stand since he was just a kid with his father. An older well built man wearing a faded Carhart jacket with a U.S. Army patch sewn in, Sylvester excitedly talked about his long-standing connection to the Jack’s legacy. He’s even close friends with the family of Jafross Lavano, the founder of Jack’s.
“I’m even good friends with Jafross son, John Lavanos, who was the second generation owner. His son Jeff and I, who’s the current owner, still play poker together,” Sylvester noted. “Heck, he taught me the game. I’m practically family.”
Customers such as Sylvester aren’t uncommon, according to employee Jessica Bogel. For many people who grew up in the area, eating at Jack’s is a tradition. A fairly tall, slender brunette in her early thirties, Bogel has lived in neighboring Adams her whole life.
“It’s a tradition for a lot of people to bring their kids here, and then have them bring their own kids year later,” she said.
Having worked at Jack’s for little over a year, Bogel said she very much already feels like she’s a part of the Jack’s family. She did note, however, that almost no one has been working there as long as co-worker Bill Sprowson.
“I’ve lived here my entire life and have been working here for about 20 years now,” said Sprowson. “The owner’s a great guy and I love working with the people who come in here every day.”
Sprowson, a big built middle aged man with short auburn hair, was quick to talk about how his boss sticks to tradition.
“Well, he’s a third generation owner who stays true to his family business,” said Sprowson. “He tends to keep the same employees and he’ll do anything for you once you’ve been around for a while. Mike the manager’s been here for over 8 years”
A Hungry Tradition
Tradition seems to be trend at Jack’s Hot Dog Stand, as they even have a regular hot dog eating contest. The current record is 27 hot dogs and unless someone beats it, they have to pay for what they eat. A list of all of contestants hangs proudly on the milk vendor at the end of the back counter.
“A lot of the little kids will sign up for it just so they can have their name on the sheet,” said Sprowson. “They know they can’t eat 28 hot dogs, but they love to do it anyways.”
A strong advocate of the Jack’s tradition, Durkan himself has of course competed in the contest. Durkan is of fairly small stature, but his vibrant red dread locks always make him stand out in a room.
“I competed in the hotdog eating contest about a year ago,” he said. “Actually there’s a Beacon article about it still kicking around somewhere.”
Durkan wasn’t shy to admit that he didn’t eat as many as he thought he would, however.
“Well I only ate about ten, but it was good enough to get second place for that month,” he noted.
Ten hotdogs, however, still has to be a feat as Durkan described the grueling process.
“The process was awful; I ate the first few too quick. Unfortunately, It was also busy so I wasn’t able to get the refills I needed early on,” he explained. “I was on a bit of a ramen diet at the time though, so my stomach wasn’t nearly as stretched as I wished.”
Though Durken did have to pay for those hotdogs, at just over $1.00 a hotdog, it’s never too pricey. On the day the hot dog stand celebrates its 100 year anniversary, prices will be even cheaper.
“When we do hit the 100 year mark, we’ll be selling our hot dogs at the original prices when Jack’s opened,” said Bogel. “It was five cents a hot dog and seven for two.”
The Test of Time
Bogel also joked that she’ll be sure to take a day off when the anniversary comes. There is no doubt that the staff is proud of this feat though, as the restaurant has seen a lot through its long existence.
“We’ve stood the test of time,” Bogel proudly boasted. “Jack’s has stayed in the same family all along; we still buy our potatoes from the same farm, and that grill’s still here.”
Jack’s indeed has stood the test of time as it has gone through many hardships. Since Jack Levano’s opened the stand in 1917, the business kept strong through the roaring twenties, the Great Depression ,World War II, the economic booms of the 50’s and 60’s, the fuel crisis of the 70’s, and the economic hardships of the 80’s and 90’s (jack’shotdogstand.com).
While there seem to be several reasons explaining the stand’s log time sustenance, the answer for long-time customer Sylvester is a simple one.
“It’s fit for a king,” he said happily pointing at the same phrase painted in the glass window that’s in front of the store. “Since I can remember people have been coming for the free food, but they always stay for the free entertainment.”
This seemed like an appropriate final word on the matter for Sylvester, as he happily dove into the plate of fries and ketchup he’s been eating since he was a kid afterward.