The eighty-four-year-old Nu-Way Weiner chain flirts with growth in Georgia.

By Lori B. Murray

Hot diggity dog! That’s exactly what folks in Macon, Georgia are saying now that the eighty-four-year-old Nu-Way Weiners chain is expanding for the first time since 1972.

A prototype store opened in the Macon area this past May, followed by a new franchise in October, paving the way for continued expansion. In the near future, there will be eleven Nu-Way Weiner restaurants—eight company-owned and four franchised units. Spyros Dermatas, co-owner of the company, says, “We foresee taking this from eleven stores to eighteen or twenty in the next ten years.”

Nu-Way serves a private-label hot dog that remains at the heart of its menu—a hometown weiner that folks in that region have grown up with. Today, 30 to 35 percent of the chain’s sales come from the famous weiners, always served grilled. Already ranked as one of the top dogs in America by Money Magazine, Nu-Way will put its hot dog up against any hot dog in America, Dermatas says. The Nu-Way chili dog remains value priced at $1.14—a price that probably would be about 30 percent higher just eighty miles north of Macon, in the Atlanta area. The lower costs of operating in the Macon markets, Dermatas says, helps the company keep prices low.

Hometown Weiner: The small Georgia chain plans to modernize its drive-thrus and equipment as it undergoes expansion for the first time since 1972.

Why the sudden expansion? Dermatas and his partner and cousin, Jim Cacavias, were waiting for an opportunity to buy out the previous generation. “I tried to pursue expansion while they were still in power,” says Dermatas. “I saw where we were missing the boat in the Macon market ten to fifteen years ago.” But as the previous owners approached retirement, their desire for expansion faded.

Nu-Way started in 1916 when Dermatas’ uncle, James Mollis, opened the first location in downtown Macon. In spite of the restaurant’s success, only three stores operated prior to 1968, the year when Dermatas’ father and partners took over. From 1968 to 1972, an additional six stores dotted the Macon landscape, establishing loyalty to a chili dog and southern-style menu still thriving today.

Over the years, the menu has expanded more rapidly than the chain. Today it features a predominantly breakfast and lunch menu with everything from toasted breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, and grits to a BLT, grilled cheese, and the Mega-Burger, a deluxe quarter-pounder born in the fifties. Says Dermatas, “We call it the ‘people-pleasing’ menu. It’s what people have grown up with here in the South.”

Dermatas has no intentions of changing the weiner he serves—he knows it’s what has made the chain famous—but he does plan to modernize the restaurants. “We want to project an image that says to the public we are ready to go to the next level and provide service,” he says. The new stores will have state-of-the-art drive-thrus and ordering boards, featuring eighteen hundred square feet—a 50 percent expansion in size—along with additional equipment, making possible such things as the introduction of a grilled chicken sandwich.

For now, Dermatas is excited about the growth-yet cautious. He won’t sacrifice quality, and he knows that expansion can only occur with strong management in place. But one place he’ll never take Nu-Way Weiners beyond the Georgia border. “It’s not something,” he says, “you can expect to take from one region to another.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2000 issue of QSR. All rights reserved.

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