After 43 years, CT’s Top Dog owners plan final celebration

PORTLAND — The couple who operate the popular Top Dog food stand on Route 66 already have three times as many Thurmann natural casing hot dogs on hand as usual for their final day in the truck’s 43-year run Saturday.

“I’m sure there will be lots of hugs and kisses and tears,” said Alan Spaulding, who built the trailer from scratch.

“It’s time for us to say goodbye,” he said. “It’s going to be an emotional day. The next day I’ll wake up and my hot dog stand will never be in my driveway again.

Both men took much comfort from choosing the perfect person to take over the operation, Marissa Puida of Portland, who has been throwing hot dogs alongside them for six weeks.

The 1963 bun-colored former camper is based in the former Connecticut Central Railroad depot at 211 Marlborough Road, not far from the Arrigoni Bridge. Top Dog is quite the local spectacle – topped with a giant red hot dog accompanied by yellow mustard and green relish.

It is pulled by a yellow 1972 Marathon taxi with an “Elvis” mannequin in a Hawaiian shirt in the back seat. The iconic Airstream trailer has been on Route 66 for so many decades that its customers span generations.

The stand was also featured in local media, as well as national television shows, such as “Road Food.”

Puida, who will take over the business on Monday, is aiming to reopen by the end of next week. His mother. Kim Greenlaw. owns the Eggs Up restaurant about 3 miles away on Route 66, where Puida worked as a waitress.

Andrea Spaulding has channeled the emotions she feels about the end of an era into humor, joking with longtime customers about what would happen if she didn’t retire.

“I’d probably be 90 years old and with one of those big hearing aids, (saying out loud) ‘What did you want?’ and give them hot dogs that were the complete opposite of what they ordered,” she said.

When she gets an order wrong, Andrea Spaulding delivers a perfect comeback: “That’s why I’m retiring.”

Over the past two months, Puida has gotten to know the couple much better, she said. “We all get along really well. We joke with each other.

“I see myself 30 or 40 years ago,” said Andrea Spaulding, who started the operation at age 28, at a time when few local women worked in the food truck industry. “It was unheard of,” she said.

She was a pioneer in the mobile kitchen business at the time, Andrea Spaulding said, but “my time has come.”

“She has all the eagerness and desire,” Andrea Spaulding said of Puida. “She has that energy like me.”

The food truck is the couple’s “baby,” Puida said. “They put all their effort and all their years into it. The fact that they chose me made it even more special.

The menu is simple: hot dogs, chips and soda, including East Haven’s Foxon Park. Prices are affordable: hot dogs range from $3.60 to $4.70, depending on toppings. Only cash is accepted.

Puida “handed in” all the “homework” Andrea Spaulding gave him, including replicating her homemade chili and sauerkraut recipes. “You can’t tell the difference,” Andrea Spaulding said.

Until now, Alan Spaulding was much less sentimental, his wife said.

However, that changed about a week ago when a grocery store customer approached him with teary eyes to tell him how much his presence in Portland meant to her and the community, his wife said.

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