October 25, 2014

Elyria
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Dog-Gone? Owner selling Ohio’s last Dog ‘n Suds

Ilene Hampton has run drive-in for 46 years

SHEFFIELD TWP. — After nearly half a century, Ilene Hampton is hanging up her carhop uniform.
Hampton is looking to sell her beloved Dog ’n Suds, the drive-in on North Ridge Road that she’s run for 46 years.
The drive-in — which specializes in Coney hot dogs and root beer — has survived the growth of chain restaurants. It is one of nine Dog ’n Suds still operating in the United States and the only one in Ohio. In its glory days in the mid-’1970s, Dog ’n Suds had almost 600 locations around the country.
Hampton purchased the eatery in 1962, knowing she could make it work — and boy has she.
“I bought it when it was in bankruptcy,” she said.
Since then, Hampton’s Dog ’n Suds has collected its share of stories.
Actor Danny DeVito and his wife, Rhea Perlman of “Cheers” fame, sat at one of Hampton’s red picnic tables and ordered Dog ’n Suds’ trademark Coney dogs and homemade root beers served in frosted mugs.
Unlike in the movies, the carhops working the drive-in don’t wear roller skates — that lasted only a few years in the ’60s — but as cars pull in and turn on their headlights, the carhop makes her way to the car to take the customer’s order. Within a few minutes, the carhop — clad in a red polo and white skirt — returns from the kitchen and places the tray on the driver’s half-open window.
“We’ve served as many as 2,000 cars,” a record set in 1983, Hampton said. “A good day for us is about 1,000 cars.”
The parking lot has seen more than just cars.
“We had people who met here and got married in the parking lot,” Hampton said.
When Hampton got started, she tried different things to stand out, including staying open until 4 a.m. in the ’60s.
“Sometimes I would spend the night here,” Hampton said, adding that she kept a toothbrush and extra uniform in the back for those nights she slept on the floor. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
But all good things must come to an end. Hampton, 74, hopes to sell the business by the end of the season.
“It’s time for us to enjoy life,” said Hampton, who plans to spend more time with her husband, Tom, outside the kitchen.
The couple has worked together at the restaurant from open to close for the past 16 years during its April to August season.
If the business doesn’t sell, Hampton said she’ll come back in the fall to train two current employees to take over and manage the business.
The two cooks, who have been with the restaurant for more than six years and would love to keep it going, are already making plans to lengthen the operating season from March to October.
For information on buying the restaurant, contact Hamilton at (440) 324-3636.
Contact Rania Shakkour at 329-7127 or rshakkour@chroniclet.com.

070707dognsuds.jpgSteve Manheim / Chronicle
Ilene Hampton, owner of Dog ’n Suds in Sheffield Township, is selling the drive-in after 45 years.