Kevin Chateauneuf grew up in South Hadley, and he went to Nick's Nest with his family as a rare treat for their hot dogs and popcorn. When he saw a sign outside the establishment six years ago offering it for sale, he and his wife decided they had to buy it.
"It's a landmark," he said, and understanding its importance to him and the community, he wanted to make certain its legacy continued. "It took us nearly a year of negotiation. They were selling the business and the property, so the asking price was a big number. For the common Joe, you don't get loans unless you've got a lot behind you. We're just working class people. We had what we saved up over the years, but it was a tough transition. It's been working out for us, though."
While Chateauneuf and his wife have made some small changes to the menu and the space, their goal has been to keep the food and the feel consistent with how it's been for 89 years.
"A lot of people don't know this, but the hot dogs we serve are made just for Nick's Nest. It's a family recipe," he said. "They come out of Arnold's Meats, but they're made down in a place in Connecticut called Muckies." The seasoning used on the beef and pork offers a somewhat milder hot dog taste. A cheaper alternative was once tried, but even before they were eaten, the smell, color and texture were off, and the change was rejected.
"The original owner only ever had mustard and relish," Chateauneuf said, so that the flavor of the hot dog could be enjoyed. "When he passed away, his son added onions, chili and cheese, or that's what I heard. We introduced, about a year or so, ago sauerkraut because people were asking for it. My wife and I feel like, if you want something on your hot dog, what are we going to do, argue with you? Some people come in and get everything on it—you can't really taste the dog then, but if that's what you like, go for it.
"We have a lot of people, though, who come in and they get a dog with nothing on it," he said. "I never had it that way before I owned the place, but when I tried it, you know, it's really good. The dog you have at home, you put stuff on it to make it taste good, but now when I eat dogs here, about half the time I'll have it with nothing on it. I think that's the reason for this place's success."
2nd place, Hamburgers