Hot dog stand built with strength and tradition stands the test of time

Matt and Elizabeth Estep, Lydia and Tom Estep Sr., Tom Estep Jr., and Kristi Estep are pictured together at their chili dog stand, a fixture at the Shenandoah County Fair. Courtesy photo

At Woodstock at the Shenandoah County Fair, there’s a hot dog stand that makes fair goers feel at home. Tom’s Chili Dog, situated near the grandstand, began in 1947 when Tom Estep Sr’s., father, Paul Estep, sold his very first hot dog while Tom Sr., sold snow cones next door. For 68 years, the family tradition has continued and been passed down generation to generation.

Tom Estep Jr., along with his brother Matt Estep, now run the popular hot dog stand after their parents Tom Estep Sr., and his wife Lynda semi-retired a few years ago. Tom said he and his family have many fond memories of the Shenandoah County Fair and the camaraderie of seeing friends and family throughout the week-long event stop by for a dog and fries.

“There’s nothing better than seeing 75 people standing in line waiting for a dog,” Tom Estep Jr. said. “We’re more than just a food stand-we’re a family.”

Tom’s Chili Dog stand has always been located at the Shenandoah County fairgrounds and while the fair has seen its fair amount of changes, the stand and traditions have remained the same.

“We’re simple here at Tom’s Chili Dog’s and we like to keep it that way,” Tom Estep said.

The stand sells hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries and of course chili. Tom Estep said fair goers want to put chili and cheese on everything they serve. Prices have been kept lower for kids and families alike.

Tom said 3,500 pounds of potatoes are cut into fries in a week. And they no longer use a measuring system to make their homemade chili.

“We spice it up the way we want,” he said. “No two days are alike.”

Over the years Tom’s Chili Dogs has become a meeting place for people off all ages. People stop by before or after the live-entertainment, tractor pull or greased pig contest.

“We see so many familiar faces stop by and grab a hot dog,” Tom Estep said. “It wouldn’t be worth it if it wasn’t for our loyal and local fan base. It’s as much their stand as it is ours.”

Between six to 10 people man the stand during the fair each day. Tom said it’s a mixture of family and friends who help.

“The simple fact is everyone pitches in,” Tom said. “That’s how we’ve made it work over the years. And we have no plans to change it anytime soon.”

The stand opens at 11:45 a.m. and remains open until closing or dying down time.

Tom said he’s not quite sure why the stand has remained so popular since its inception in 1947. Maybe it’s because the families has continued to use the same grill over the years which gives their food that familiar taste or maybe it’s the friendly atmosphere. But one thing is for sure: On opening day of the Shenandoah County Fair droves of people will be standing in line waiting for that legendary Tom’s chili dog and hand cut fries.