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FOOD FEATURE

For many Columbians, Sandy’s, which might yet come back, was more than a hot dog joint

Prodigal Weiner

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Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs on Broad River Road

Columbia prepares to say goodbye to a beloved local business

The line was long for Saturday lunch at an old local stand-by. People started flowing into the Broad River Road location of Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs at 11 a.m., seeking to grab at least one more of the dogs that are, per the restaurant’s slogan, “So big! So Good!” As Free Times reported a few days earlier, all three locations of the Midlands-based chain will shutter by the end of the year. And if this scene was any indication, there are many locals hankering for one last dog.

“We were serving food as fast as we could at all three locations,” Sandy’s owner Bud Sanderson says of the Saturday rush. 

After 41 years in the hot dog business, Sanderson decided it’s time to hang up his apron and ice cream scoop to enjoy retirement. 

“We’ve certainly waited long enough!” Sanderson proclaims.

All three locations — two in Columbia, one in Lexington — will close at least by December 31, if not a few days before, depending on supplies. But if a buyer that the family finds credible comes through, Sanderson says the business could continue on — a glimmer of hope to a community who loves the restaurants’ reliable dogs and ice cream. He plans to lease out the spaces for an additional month in case a buyer worthy of the Sandy’s name does come through.

Sanderson opened Sandy’s in 1979. In that time, people all over the Midlands have formed some very personal memories at the hot dog joint, from drunk chili dog runs at the University of South Carolina-adjacent location on Main Street (closed in 2017) to those people who worked at the Cayce location during high school. When Free Times posted the story on Facebook, hundreds left comments, sharing their own Sandy’s stories.

Former Sandy’s shift leader Special Davison tells Free Times that she worked at the Main Street location there more than a year as a part-time college job, where she says the gig’s minimum-wage pay was offset by benefits that included top-notch parking for class and a free meal. Often, USC alumni would stop by Sandy’s and remark how they “used to eat here all the time in college,” she recalls.

Her experience at Sandy’s hasn’t left her. One of her co-workers later became her maid of honor and she has even dreamed about working there again recently.

“I think I’m going to get me a chili cheese dog before they close,” Davison says. “I haven’t had it since before I left.”  

What is it about Sandy’s that has touched so many people? On the surface, it’s just a place that serves hot dogs and ice cream. Cities, towns and Main Streets across America all have their own versions of Sandy’s, where people go to get franks and sweet treats. Such casual hangouts have been depicted in TV shows and movies across decades. From the Peach Pit in Beverly Hills 90210 to Luke’s Diner in the Gilmore Girls, every community — fictional or not — has a place like this. 

Though it’s not necessarily a destination in and of itself to anyone who doesn’t have pure nostalgia for the red and white decorated restaurants, Sandy’s did sling hot dogs that kept people coming back through the years. Theirs are famous for black angus beef, and for their quarter pound super dog combos, including slaw dogs and chili dogs for $6.59 and $5.99, respectively. There aren’t many places left where a lunch with a drink can be had for less than a $10 bill.

Sanderson’s own go-to lunch is, unsurprisingly, a super slaw dog combo.

“Shake a little Texas Pete on those white onions, and run your blood pressure up a little bit,” Sanderson laughs.  

The ice cream was the other big pull at Sandy’s — 32 flavors of creamy custard ice cream, in flavors that just aren’t that common anymore, peering from behind classic glass ice cream cases. Superman, Rocky Road and butter pecan are all old-school flavors that could be found at the restaurants.

But similar to other places like Sandy’s in other towns, the memories will always be the best thing about Sandy’s — to the Sanderson family as much as the community they fed. From serving President Ronald Reagan to opening some of his first stores in Lexington, with high school employees that are now parents to high schoolers themselves, there isn’t a story Sanderson tells that isn’t a happy one.

“I have nothing but fond memories of this,” he opines. 

David Clarey contributed to this article.

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