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"The hot dog is the most noble dog of all; it feeds the hand that bites it."


The following are excerpts from a June 12, 1995 St. Pete Times article which is framed and hanging on the wall at Mel's.  The author is not named.  Photos are by Ken Helle, Times photographer,  also from the article.


What makes a Mel's hot dog so hot?  Mel Lohn, the gregarious owner of Mel's Hot Dogs says it's a throwback to the 60's, a happy place with a unique personality.  


Tampa Bay's self-proclaimed Top Dog, Mel puts his natural casing franks, piccalilli relish, and barrel-cured sauerkraut on a pedestal, treating them like gourmet food.  "The hot dog is the most noble dog of all; it feeds the hand that bites it" reads one of the many plaques and newpaper clippings hanging on the walls at Mel's Hot Dogs.


[ Wondering what is Picalilli Relsih?  Here's one recipe, may differ from Mel's ]

Such doggerel is pure Mel, a tireless promoter who does as much business as a typical McDonald's in what started in 1973 as a hole-in-the-wall at 4136 E. Busch Blvd.



Life has always been extemporaneous for Mel Lohn.  He spent six years pursuing a two-year associate degree because he enjoyed the lifestyle.


The son of blue-collar Chicago parents, Mel Lohn played saxophone in a 60's show band that toured the country in a school bus.  He got off in Tampa when he realized that most of his profits were spent on the band's wardrobe.  After five years of dead-end jobs, Mel decided Tampa needed a Chicago-style hot dog spot because he couldn't find one.  He talked a bank into a loan for advance rent and opened "Mel's Hot Dog Ranch" in 1973.  He made $99 the first day of business, twice what he expected.

"The house that dogs built"                         

 The original 25 seat capacity has turned into 100.     

Mel's is located in the last surviving structure of the Henderson Air Field property, Tampa's Army airbase in WWII.  (The University of South Florida was built just north of the airfield.)   Henderson Air Field was Tampa's third and smallest air base in addition to Drew airbase and MacDill air base.   The building was just a small house, until Mel Lohn expanded it.  (Information courtesy of Andy Huse, USF Library Special Collections.)   





Staffers at Mel's have been known to break into spontaneous crushed ice snowball fights, or toss Frisbees to unsuspecting customers.  For lone diners, Mel stocks a library of current magazines.    Lohn works the crowd, dispensing "verbal zingers."  He knows everybody, or pretends to know the ones he doesn't, hassling anyone who walks in wearing a tie.  "We have a dress code in here you know.  Ties restrict the blood flow to the brain."  He grabs a french fry from a customer's plate, yelling "FRY CHECK!" before tossing it in his mouth.  Another customer who thinks Mel is opening another restaurant, asks where in Brandon he's looking for a site.  "As far away from your house as I can get!" he shoots back.



Even the way to the restrooms is lined with fame and notoriety.






Mel showers the neighborhood with coupons and donates "buy 1 get 1 free" deals to about any charity that asks.  He courts the Tampa media and politicos, scoring heaps of good publicity and word of mouth among the influential.  Even a New York Times critic loved the place.


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Click the button to see some of the famous people who have eaten at Mels.  The three people wearing the Mel's T-shirts are Tampa Bay radio personalities from 970 WFLA, Sharon Taylor, Jack Harris, and Tedd Webb.




Visit Tedd's Webbsite "Tampa Bay Legend Mel Lohn"


Mel would be happy to sell you a hat and T-shirt.



When the weather is nice--and it always is in Tampa--you and your dog can sit outside.








Yous' guys should eat at Mel's, you won't find a better Chicago-Style Dog.


Put your cursor on the dog below to taste a bite.  Click it to visit Mel's official website.

Read a review from Digital City


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