The 'O' Turns the Big 5-0

Frankly speaking, there's half a century of hot-dog history located at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bouquet Street in Oakland.



The Original founder Sid Simon with an armful of famous hot dogs.

I love the "O." Call it what you will: the Original, Essie's, the Dirty O or the Hot Dog Shop. It's been serving great dogs since June of 1960. It's one of those places where you want to take visitors just to let them know that Pittsburgh has soul, wonderful wieners, a certain tasty funkiness and truly great french fries.

The Original was started by two brothers, Sid and Moe Simon, who have roots in the Hill District. Moe remembers the weather was really hot when they first opened their doors that summer.

original hot dog shop in oaklandThey called the new place Original Burgers & Hot Dogs, but they had no burgers. That makes me laugh. Oh, the burgers eventually arrived about three weeks later, but by then, it was obvious what was important, and Moe thinks they decided to change the name to the Original Hot Dog Shop by September.

So they were up and running and busy by the time the Pirates won the 1960 World Series over the Yankees at Forbes Field—just a block away.

Now, as they celebrate a half-century of selling superb sausages in buns, Moe is retired, Sid passed away in November 2008 and Sid's daughter, Terry Campsano, and son, Bruce Simon, are co-owners of the place. Terry sat and talked recently, sharing some old pictures and laughing about her early years at the O (starting when she was 13). "I love that picture of my dad with the hot dogs lined up his arm," she says. "He used to do that. I still miss him every day."

An old newspaper ad says the O only sold "Armour U.S. Gov't. Inspected Franks," but for many years, it has sold primarily natural-casing wieners made with the family's own special recipe by Silver Star Meats in McKees Rocks.

And everybody knows the fries here are just as outstanding as the dogs. They're carefully cooked twice in peanut oil: first at a lower temperature, then rested until they're ordered and finally receiving a second frying in hotter oil to get a perfect crunch. The serving size is legendary—gigantic mounds of fries. Uncle Moe says the fries weren't here in 1960, but they were inspired by great french fries in paper cups at the beach one year.

Now, you get the fries (and I suggest drinks as well) at the back counter and the dogs up front by the Forbes Avenue entrance. It's an unusual procedure that baffles first-timers, but I've come to believe that an odd way of ordering often indicates some really good food.

It's a rare hot dog place that lasts a half century. We can chalk it up to one family's hard work, to quality hot dogs, fabulous fries, weird ways of ordering and the endless crowds of loyal customers among other factors. Although Forbes Field is gone, the Oakland landscape has changed and the Pirates won't be in the World Series this year, the O is still a player, a destination and a beloved part of our city.

Moe and Sid Simon and their descendants deserve to be honored for their major home run of a small business, too.


Rick Sebak is a producer for WQED-TV and made "A Hot Dog Program" for PBS in 1999.

Hot Reads

Review: One Thirty One East

Review: One Thirty One East

Located in the southwest suburban community of Carnegie, One Thirty One East embodies the area’s renaissance.
Grow. Cook. Drink.: Maggie Meskey of Butcher and the Rye

Grow. Cook. Drink.: Maggie Meskey of Butcher and the Rye

The charismatic Maggie Meskey had tended bar for years before landing her gig at downtown bourbon haven Butcher and the Rye.
13 Bartenders You Should Know

13 Bartenders You Should Know

Get acquainted with this group of charming bar professionals working in various establishments around the city.
Why Things Get Squirrely Near the Tunnels

Why Things Get Squirrely Near the Tunnels

PittGirl doesn't know why we say "warsh" — but she has figured out why we 'Burghers hit the brakes at the sight of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.

The 412

Gear Up for Month of Mud's Final Bike Race of 2014

Gear Up for Month of Mud's Final Bike Race of 2014

The homegrown race series wraps up on Sunday at Ohiopyle State Park.
Local Developer Creates Pittsburghese Plugin for Google Chrome

Local Developer Creates Pittsburghese Plugin for Google Chrome

Have a little fun as you search the Web.
Pittsburgher Ali Spagnola Releases an App Version of Her 'Power Hour' Album

Pittsburgher Ali Spagnola Releases an App Version of Her 'Power Hour' Album

The creator of the app — which takes any playlist on your smartphone or tablet and plays it in one-minute pieces — reminds users to please drink responsibly.
NPR Blog Team Tries, Critiques Primanti Bros. Sandwich

NPR Blog Team Tries, Critiques Primanti Bros. Sandwich

The group behind the station's Sandwich Monday blog series orders the iconic sandwich and writes a review.

Hot Reads

Review: One Thirty One East

Review: One Thirty One East

Located in the southwest suburban community of Carnegie, One Thirty One East embodies the area’s renaissance.
Grow. Cook. Drink.: Maggie Meskey of Butcher and the Rye

Grow. Cook. Drink.: Maggie Meskey of Butcher and the Rye

The charismatic Maggie Meskey had tended bar for years before landing her gig at downtown bourbon haven Butcher and the Rye.
13 Bartenders You Should Know

13 Bartenders You Should Know

Get acquainted with this group of charming bar professionals working in various establishments around the city.
Why Things Get Squirrely Near the Tunnels

Why Things Get Squirrely Near the Tunnels

PittGirl doesn't know why we say "warsh" — but she has figured out why we 'Burghers hit the brakes at the sight of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.
12 Hot New Restaurants

12 Hot New Restaurants

A diverse crop of eateries caught our attention this year, so we’re highlighting some of our favorites.
40 Under 40: 2014

40 Under 40: 2014

In their own ways, the 40 men and women we introduce here show us daily how we can ensure that Pittsburgh is deserving of its Most Livable City title.