The West Virginia Hot Dog Festival 2017 will mark the 13th observance this year of the festival. Numerous residents and visitors are familiar with the event that draws more than 10,000 people to downtown Huntington each year.
Organizer John Mandt, Jr. is passionate about generating support for the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital. Mandt is the fourth-generation owner of Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs. Mandt’s inspiration dates to the mid-1960s when tragedy struck his family twice over a two-year period. In 1965, Mandt’s younger sister died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In 1967, his one-year-old brother died of a brain tumor.
“Before my mother turned 30, she had given birth to three children, buried two, and adopted another,” said Mandt. “I remember some things from that time, like driving down to the hospital and what my parents went through. I thought maybe if we had a nicer facility then, things would have been different. It’s very rewarding doing things with the Children’s Hospital and knowing that every time families walk out of there, I’ve played a small part.”
Mandt’s determination to make a difference prompted his original meeting with iHeart Radio Station Manager Judy Jennings and Senior Marketing Consultant and Festival Events Coordinator Kym York-Blake.
“The iHeart Radio marketer felt strongly about the festival because of its ties to the Tri-State area,” Mandt said. “While the national radio network raises funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, York-Blake likes helping Huntington-area residents, too.”
“So, I picked someone in radio I already partner with on advertising,” he recalled. “They (iHeart) have been phenomenal—bringing in music, setting up the stage, and doing a lot of things behind the scenes.”
Over the years, the event has steadily grown. It now features a carnival, live music, a car show, arts and crafts displays and various festivities that run from 9 A.M. to 6 P.M.
The schedule kicks off with the early-morning Bun Run which includes a 5K and 10K. The most recent Bun Run attracted nearly 300 participants; a third of which ran the longer distance.
Scheduled for July 29, this year’s festival will feature a new twist—an appearance by Flippy the Dachshund. The popular pooch has her own comic book series and will be signing autographs and hopefully sparking more interest in the wiener dog race. In the past, up to 100 pups have scooted down Third Avenue by the Pullman Square stage.
“The most popular contest is the wiener dog races at noon,” York-Blake said. “If we can get past 150 dachshunds, we will be the biggest race in the nation. There’s one in Texas that has 130.”
In addition to raising approximately $150,000 over the years, the event has turned into a tourist attraction, particularly among natives who plan visits to relatives so they may attend the festival. “I’m passionate about the festival and am quick to tell everyone who it’s benefiting,” York-Blake said. “We’ve been so happy working with the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital and so thankful we’re able to help children and families.”
Mandt doesn’t confine his efforts to July to support the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital. The first Friday of every month, Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs donates 10 percent of its sales to the children’s hospital. Mandt also sells wrist bands for $2 each, year-round – a colorful reminder of the importance of a community supporting one another. That’s a message he shares during visits to area schools.
“I give all the kids a bracelet to let them know they’re original and can make a positive difference,” Mandt said. “I speak to them about finding your passion. Money is important, but you must wake up every day and feel like you’re not going to a job.”