Louie Galanes’s daughter says her dad missed his calling. Twice.
Galanes, 77, who emigrated to the U.S. from a small village in central Greece and came through Ellis Island at age 10, is a well-known fixture in his adopted homeland. From the city to the WNY suburbs, seven Louie’s Texas Red Hots and a cafe bear his name.
Undoubtedly, Galanes will forever be associated with his signature eateries, featuring not only hot dogs with Louie’s signature sauce — a proprietary recipe that includes a ground beef base with a variety of spices — but also burgers, fries, old-fashioned milkshakes, Greek favorites, salads, and even breakfast staples.
“But he could have easily had a career in fashion or landscaping,” said his youngest daughter, Argyrie Galanes, with a chuckle.
Alighting from his sports car, Louie, slim and resplendent in his stylish trousers, colorful shirt, gray felt hat and sporting a bracelet, hefty watch and ring, did not disagree.
“From the time I was an altar boy, I studied how people dressed. Then, when I went to Seneca High School, I noticed a teacher who always looked sharp,” Louie recalled, adding that he still wears a suit and tie to church every week. “I like to maintain traditions and I love clothes and jewelry. I have 33 hats, all types and for all seasons.”
While Louie Galanes may be a septuagenarian clotheshorse, he is an accomplished landscaper, too. From the seedlings he painstakingly plants to the Disneyesque topiaries he designs and meticulously trims, Louie’s attention to detail is the same he uses with his daily clothing ensembles.
He also still finds time to be involved in the restaurants.
“My daughters Stacey and Vaso run a couple of our eight locations and Argyrie came back home to help with marketing, but I like to pop in and stay involved, talk with our staff and customers,” Louie said. “This work has been in my blood for a long time.”
Working at a soda fountain starting at age 15, Louie found the calling that would provide a solid living for his wife, Penny, and their three girls. When he was 17, Louie would take two buses to get to Ted’s on Sheridan Drive in Tonawanda. He developed a camaraderie that still runs deep to this day with other Greek immigrants who operated hot dog joints around Western New York.
“We all knew each other from the hot dog business and also from the same Greek Orthodox Church,” recalled Louie. But after working in restaurants for a few years, Louie did an about face and opened a gas station.
“I went to General Motors school and learned a lot about cars, but after five years, I realized how much I missed being around restaurants,” Louie said, “so I went back to work at my friend’s place, Nick’s Texas Red Hots.”
Soon after, Louie was ready to take the plunge and open his own place. When he recounts the details of his first location, debuting on May 2, 1967, it’s as if it happened yesterday.
“I started Louie’s Texas Red Hots on Bailey and Delavan. That first store was 12-by-24 feet wide, similar in look to that Saturday Night Live skit with John Belushi, when they constantly yelled out ‘cheeburger and Pepsi.’ I had my brother, sisters and nephews working there,” Louie said. “For the first 24 hours, we only took in $32. It took a few months to catch on.”
Some 51 years later, Louie, now a widower and cancer survivor, is going strong, just like his eight eateries. Despite considerable competition and complying with new minimum wage requirements, he points out that he and his family have evolved with the times, and takes great pride in their longevity.
As Louie sat back reflecting on his decades of success, Argyrie made a prediction.
“There will always be a Louie’s in Buffalo.”