CUSTOMERS ENTER Kermit’s Hot Dog House in Winston-Salem, N.C.

CUSTOMERS ENTER Kermit’s Hot Dog House in Winston-Salem, N.C.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.

Buster Williams and Paul Church have been running Kermit’s Hot Dog House since they became business partners in 1975.

Customers are forgiven if they don’t know the ordering protocol. It’s been so long since drive-ins were a common thing that many don’t know the rules. Williams said sometimes people blow the car horn; other times people just sit there, and when the car hop comes out they say they are going inside to eat.

To order more food, turn your parking lights back on.

PAUL CHURCH, LEFT, AND BUSTER WILLIAMS, co-owners of Kermit’s Hot Dog House, pose for a photo at the restaurant in Winston Salem, N.C.

PAUL CHURCH, LEFT, AND BUSTER WILLIAMS, co-owners of Kermit’s Hot Dog House, pose for a photo at the restaurant in Winston Salem, N.C.

Kermit’s is celebrating a half century of selling hot dogs and other drive-in fare, but for some folks it’s a celebration anytime they walk through the door.

“We do two things when we come to Winston Salem,” said David Fishel, a former resident who has been living in Florida for 15 years. “We see our grandchildren, and we eat at Kermit’s.”

TRAVIS RUDDOCK, left, and Samantha Murray dig into footlongs at Kermit’s Hot Dog House in Winston-Salem, N.C. Murray, who grew up nearby and visited Kermit’s on weekends when her father drove in the demolition derby at Bowman Gray Stadium, brought Ruddock for his first taste of the iconic landmark’s specialty.

TRAVIS RUDDOCK, left, and Samantha Murray dig into footlongs at Kermit’s Hot Dog House in Winston-Salem, N.C. Murray, who grew up nearby and visited Kermit’s on weekends when her father drove in the demolition derby at Bowman Gray Stadium, brought Ruddock for his first taste of the iconic landmark’s specialty.

Kermit’s makes its own slaw and cuts onions at least every other day.

“We try to price everything fairly, but people have got to understand that we don’t buy junk,” Williams said.

When Kermit’s opened in 1966, it was at the corner of Thomasville Road and Sprague Street, and it wasn’t a drive-in.

Kermit Williams died in 1968, but not before he had convinced his son to come work in the restaurant.

“I was just out of high school,” Buster Williams said. “I was getting ready to join the Marines. Daddy said, ‘Why don’t you rest a little bit before you do that?’ I don’t know if he had something in mind that I didn’t know.”

In 1971, Paul Church started working as a carhop at Kermit’s, making $1.10 an hour plus tips.

“It was a lot of fun,” Church said. “When we had races at Bowman Gray, we would close about 1:30 (a.m.) and wouldn’t get out until 3. We served a lot of famous race car people.”

Church said he rarely waited to see parking lights: He would dash out as soon as someone pulled into the lot.

“I didn’t give them a chance to get out,” he said. “I was real good and real fast.”

The restaurant did have speakers that could be used to order food, but Church said they quit using them because it was faster to run out and take the order in person.

The restaurant kept busy.

Around 1975, Church bought into the business and it became incorporated as Kermit’s Enterprises. Church and Williams own the business 50-50, and they still take turns being in charge.

Church’s wife works at the restaurant. She’s Adrianna, but people call her AC. Their daughter, Candy, is a shift manager.

Buster Williams is 66 and retired five years ago. It didn’t last. His son, Mike, is the breakfast manager at Kermit’s.

Church doesn’t figure on retiring, either.

“I plan on working here as long as I can work,” he said.

Pictures on the wall honor employees who worked at Kermit’s for decades. One is of Jerry Caudill, a 36-year employee who was night manager until sickness forced him to stop working. He died last year.

Nearby is a photo of Mary Stoltz Johnson, who was Mary Duggins when she started working there but was known by everyone as Granny. She worked at Kermit’s for more than 40 years and got her nickname because she was a sweet lady who treated her co-workers like they were her grandchildren, Church said. She died in 2009, still in the Kermit’s smock she had worn home the night before.

“There wasn’t anybody she ever met that was a stranger,” Church said. If she ran into someone down on his luck, she would give him food.

When it comes to the menu, Kermit’s sticks with the tried and true.

Besides the basic hot dog, they have foot-longs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers and variations of all of the above. But you can also get fish and chicken as well as barbecue and pimiento cheese.

“We have added a few things and taken off a few things” over the years, Williams said. “The hot dog is the biggest thing. In the last couple years, I think the foot-long is outselling the standard hot dog. We will try something out and keep on selling it.”

Williams figures that Kermit’s is the only place left in town that offers eat-in, takeout and curb service. There’s no drive-through, though.

Winston-Salem firefighters Josh Rich and Roland Falana had their truck parked in the Kermit’s lot recently as they stopped by to pick up hot dogs for their co-workers.

“This is where we come the most,” Falana said. “It has got that old nostalgia. It has the curbside service.”

Williams said everyone keeps telling him that Kermit’s is an institution.

“It feels like we are in an institution sometimes,” he said.

Longtime employees

PICTURES ON THE WALL honor employees who worked at Kermit’s for decades. One is of Jerry Caudill, a 36-year employee who was night manager until sickness forced him to stop working.

Nearby is a photo of Mary Stoltz Johnson, who was Mary Duggins when she started working there but was known by everyone as Granny. She worked at Kermit’s for more than 40 years and got her nickname because she was a sweet lady who treated her co-workers like they were her grandchildren. She died in 2009, still in the Kermit’s smock she had worn home the night before.


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: