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When Cleveland's Old Fashion Hot Dogs Closes After 92 Years, Who Gets Custody of the Chili?

photo of Tom Sorma
Tom Sorma bought Old Fashion Hot Dogs in 1988 with his brothers. Today, he runs it with his wife, Loretta.

A landmark Cleveland restaurant that opened in the late 1920s and has charged the same prices for decades is getting ready to call it quits. When the owners of Old Fashion Hot Dogs retire next month, they may take a 92-year old recipe with them.

The Sorma family has run the tiny restaurant on the west side since the late 1980s. It originally opened in 1928 and was once the main spot for late night eats in the neighborhood. Now, owner Tom Sorma says the area is changing, their building has been sold, and at the end of March he’ll stop making the chili

photo of Mary Sorma, Loretta Sorma
Tom's wife Loretta (right) usually runs the counter at Old Fashion Hot Dogs at W. 41st and Lorain. He says since announcing they will close next month, they're having their heaviest foot traffic ever. Daughter Mary (left) even came in to help on Friday.

and ladling it onto the dogs that have sold 3-for-$5 (cash only) for decades. But plenty of people are trying to get the recipe for the chili, which is closer to soup-like Cincinnati Chili than the chunkier Texas-style. Longtime customer Alexander Combs from Mentor has a suggestion.

“Try to give the recipe over to vendors over at the Westside Market to keep the tradition going. I think it would sell over there. I think Nathan’s Hot Dogs over at the market could probably use the recipe, because they make very good hot dogs.”

Sorma isn’t saying what might happen to the recipe, only that he and his wife, Loretta, are considering several options -- including marketing the brand -- while planning their retirement. Friend and longtime customer Dan Dinger says, “knowing Tom, he’ll save his money and Loretta – she’ll use it to go on vacation!”

Old Fashion Hot Dogs was opened by Greek immigrant Emmanouel "Mike" Vasiliou, who passed away 23 years ago this month. Among the famous faces who have visited are rapper Machine Gun Kelly and singer Erykah Badu, who were in town to shoot part of the film “The Land” at Old Fashion Hot Dog in 2016.

After the response to last week’s announcement that they’ll be shutting down, the Sormas actually had to close yesterday due to heavy volume and to regroup, according to an announcement on their Facebook page. They plan to be back to their regular hours Monday.

WKSU News: Old Fashion Hot Dogs in Cleveland

Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. While a Kent State student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.