Levis Hot Dogs in Abington closes

No more hot dogs, fish cakes, and Champ Cherry soda on tap.

Elliott Hirsh, frustrated at his attempt to maintain a century-old taste of Philadelphia, says he is closing the Levis Hot Dogs shop in Abington Township.

Friday was to be the last day after 5½ years, though Hirsh said he might open for business with a limited menu Saturday. His workers had received final paychecks.

“People love hot dogs,” Hirsh said. “But there don’t seem to be enough of them.” He said Levis’ bottled beverages would still be produced, though he was unsure of specific retailers.

While the recipes are the same, the Levis store’s location — along a fast-moving stretch of Old York Road just south of Abington Memorial Hospital — is not the same as the original.

The original location, on Sixth Street between Lombard and South Streets, closed in 1992, just shy of 100 years. It is now the home of Blackbird Pizzeria, a popular vegan restaurant

Camera icon City of Philadelphia
Levis Hot Dogs on Sixth Street south of Lombard, in a photo from city archives.

Hirsh, 71, who bought Levis in 1990, has spent the years trying unsuccessfully to form partnerships with other Philadelphia food companies and supermarkets — “those companies that fly the ‘Philadelphia flag.’ ”

Compounding matters is that Hirsh spends 18 hours a week on kidney dialysis.

A serial entrepreneur and nostalgist whose other businesses included the restoration of the Keswick Theatre in Glenside and Elliott’s juices, Hirsh wasn’t thinking of food when he bought Levis, which opened in 1895.

Back then, Hirsh was after Levis’ liquid asset — the formula for Champ Cherry, a soda on which several generations of Philadelphians were weaned — not the signature “combo” that paired a mustard-slathered hot dog and a fish cake on one roll. Hirsh was a beverage manufacturer known regionally for his Elliott’s Amazing line.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff
A fish cake sandwich with pepper hash at Levis.

After Levis closed in 1992, Hirsh allowed associates to use the Levis name for franchise hot dog shops, but all failed.

Hirsh did not want the Levis name to share a fate with old-time Philadelphia brands such as Gino’s hamburgers and Bookbinder’s soups. He began producing all-beef Levis hot dogs — improving the quality as he revived the old recipe — and selling them to takeout shops. The wholesale business inspired him to revive the idea of selling franchises, and he opened the first store himself.

“I’m really also trying to preserve a significant piece of Philadelphia social history,” he said. His clientele was older, he acknowledged, but came from all over.

“We’re not just selling nostalgia,” Hirsh said in a 2012 chat. “Everybody wants a séance with their dead father.”