Big Switch In Saugatuck: Jr’s Hot Dog Stand Changes Hands

Jr’s Hot Dog Stand is a special Westport place — for 2 reasons.

Sitting on the banks of the Saugatuck, it offers the best view of any deli in town.

And for nearly 40 years, it’s provided a “Cheers”-like home for hundreds of regulars.

Jrs - sign

Junior Bieling and his wife — the former Carol Digisi — opened the breakfast-and-lunch spot in 1976. Their nephew Jeff Arciola took over 10 years ago. He added a few items to the menu, put “Deli & Grill” on the sign so people would know he served more than hot dogs, and added a mobile “Weeniemobile.”

But Jr’s has remained pretty much the same, since the Ford administration.

A while ago Jeff and his wife Kathi made a momentous decision. They and their kids will move to North Carolina. Kathi — herself a 4th-generation Westporter — is pursuing a nursing career. “It’s time for the 2nd part of our lives,” Jeff says.

Jeff Arciola, at his familiar spot behind Jr's counter.

Jeff Arciola, at his familiar spot behind Jr’s counter.

So — at the end of April — a non-family member will take over Jr’s. He’s Lou Promuto, a restaurateur who owns Sunset Grille and Valentino’s in Norwalk. Eric Johnson, the new manager will come in soon, to get to know the place, its people and their routines.

There’s no need to tinker with Jr’s winning formula. The plumbers, masons and electricians will still arrive at 6 a.m., before work. Workers from nearby Riverside Avenue office buildings will stop by from 8 to 10. A mixed crowd will be in at lunch, for burgers, chili and meatball parm.

John Brandt, in his familiar corner seat.

John Brandt, in his familiar corner seat.

Whoever is there will continue to talk, argue and — in the words of longtime regular (and self-professed token liberal) John Brandt — “solve world problems.”

Jeff is confident the traditional hangout is in good hands. “I think Junior and Carol would be happy,” he says of his uncle and aunt who died within weeks of each other 2 years ago.

About the only thing that will change is that Jeff’s 2 kids won’t stop by on their way to pre-school. “They’re the show,” John says, of the attention they get from the crowd.

Otherwise, Jr’s will remain the same.

The new owner bought the Weeniemobile, too.

13 responses to “Big Switch In Saugatuck: Jr’s Hot Dog Stand Changes Hands

  1. Judi Simonetti

    When my brother and I were about 7 and 9 years old (I was younger), there was some miscommunication about us getting picked up from camp by our mom. When she didn’t pick us up, my brother and I started walking. Our little legs walked all the way down Wilton Road to Riverside Avenue and stopped at Jr.’s Hot Dog Stand. They gave us each a pastry and let us stay there until we got in touch with our mom/dad. That’s my biggest Jr.’s memory. That and when I worked at my grandfather’s office next door at The Anchorage during break when I was in high school, I’d get a bacon egg & cheese and coffee and try like crazy to nurse my hangover!

    Congratulations to the new owners and best wishes to Jeff and his family on their new adventure!!!!

  2. Sally Campbell Palmer

    I met Lou at his restaurant, Valentino’s , last weekend – it is a charming place with good food, a happy and attentive staff and he takes care to to make sure his customers are happy. I’m sure Junior’s will be in good hands.

  3. Junior used to wear “civies” to most Memorial & Veterans Day events, but one year he wore his uniform and I saw that he had a CIB and a Silver Star. Standing in a group, I pointed at Junior and said:
    “When a Sergeant receives a Silver Star, you can damn well know he deserved it.” He looked at me:
    “Thanks, Tom…not many Officers would say that.”
    When he wore civies again, and I’d mention his Silver Star, he’d try to wave me off ’cause he was modest.
    What a great guy…he’d fix me up a screwdriver [or 2] after lunch and we’d talk Westport sports…he was an historian! His beautiful wife taught both my sons in school.

    But ya better order your hot dogs HIS WAY 🙂

    Best of luck to the new team !!

  4. Barbara Sherburne '67

    If it’s the same Carol Digisi, she was a teacher of mine at Bedford Junior High School. Her sister taught there also, but I can’t think of her name. I liked them both very much.

  5. Matthew Mandell

    Dan – The title could have been big changes ON the Saugatuck. Technically I don’t believe JRs is in Saugatuck. I believe it starts south of Treadwell. Just my $.02.

  6. Suzanne (Brink) Cunningham

    Good Luck Jeff and Kathi! Congrats to the new owners and hoping they keep it the same. What a great Westport landmark, full of memories from my Bedford days.

  7. Janice Ciambriello

    Best of luck Jeff and family on your new journey, Janice Ciambriello

  8. Jeff’s family and our family are long time friends. My husband and his Dad worked together for over thirty years. I love that I can arrive with a friend and say nothing but he knows exactly what I want. My usual, sausage and hot peppers with onions, no seeds on the roll. The conversations are many and all going on at the same time. We hope JR’s ( Jeffs to me), continues on as it has for many years. It’s a fun comfortable place to meet. Jeff we all wish you, Kathi and the kids health and happiness in your new adventure. Best of luck! Wanda and family

  9. Michael Calise

    Matt – Saugatuck is less geographical and more in the hearts and souls of many native Westporters’ – JR’s is as Saugatuck as you can get!

  10. Paul Shook Sr.

    Hot dogs… way. It was the egg sandwiches with mayo that brought me
    to Juniors (and Fran’s on Riverside) all those years ago. No comments on
    playing golf on Mondays at Longshore with Junior and his famous thermos
    for “medicinal” use? Great memories……(1969 – 1983)

  11. Megan Acquino Slingo

    Jeff, Kathi & Family, Wishing you guys nothing but the best in your move down south!…I remember the many conversations we had about eventually having to leave Westport…Most of us held out as long as we could…but sometimes it is just time for that change..Change is good!!. Good Luck & Safe Travels!!