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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.

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.

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.

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.

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