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Vic & Irv's Is Back Again

At 90, Vic still hangs out on Hot Dog Row

He's in the kitchen as landmark Vic & Irv's celebrates its 70th year.

BY STAFF WRITER
KAREN MILTNER

The number of hot dogs and cheeseburgers is unfathomable. So, too, are the gallons of hot sauce that have been doused on top of them.

And don't bother trying to count the employees who have cooked and served the stuff, or the customers who have eaten it.

Really, the best way Vic Anuszkiewicz can quantify his accomplishments is by the calendar.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Sea Breeze landmark, Vic & Irv Refreshments. And in June, its founder, Anuszkiewicz (who goes by Annis), turned 90.

''I've been doing this since I was 20 years old. It's ingrown,'' says the Webster nonagenarian, who sold the business earlier this year but continues making the hot sauce, trimming the tenderloin and greeting customers a couple of times a week. ''I have to see what's going on. I come in out of sheer habit,'' he adds.

The new owner, Kevin Klee, 40, says he is happy to keep Annis' name and presence in the forefront.

''People have an undying connection to Vic & Irv's," says Klee, who reopened the restaurant in March. "It's part of their remembrance of Rochester.''

As long as Annis can remember, the north end of Culver Road in Irondequoit has been known as Hot Dog Row, for the half dozen summer stands that lined the road near Seabreeze Park. And Stanley Wagner, owner of Stanley's Place, was the row's ''kingpin,'' recalls Annis.

Annis' father, Anthony Anuszkiewicz, a Russian-Polish immigrant who worked as a presser in Rochester's clothing industry, knew Wagner and helped secure a job behind the counter for his teenage son. In those days, youths either worked the hot dog stands or the truck farms on Ridge Road.

''I had to contribute my share of the work,'' Annis recalls from his growing up in the early Depression years on the city's northeast side. Six years after starting at Stanley's, Annis ventured out on his own and opened Vic's Stand across from the amusement park. It was hard times in 1934, and many of his classmates from his 1931 Franklin High School graduating class who patronized the stand still didn't have a job.

Annis' brother, Irv, joined him in 1937, and from then on, the business was known as Vic & Irv's. ''Irv was the direct opposite of me. We disagreed on everything. But we had a common goal,'' says Annis. During World War II while Annis served as an Army medic in Italy and Africa, Irv ran the hot dog stand, moving it to a new location, two doors down from its current site at 4880 Culver Road.

In the post-war boom times, Irv convinced Annis to expand the business, and the two built the stand at its current site. They reopened in November 1947, the first business along Hot Dog Row to stay open all winter.

Uncertain how they would fare in the new venture, the brothers installed three garage doors in the building in case they needed to convert the business to a gas station. Annis also bought a used doughnut-making machine as plan C.

But post-war business was good, and with the disappearance of meat rations, Vic & Irv's was able to expand its offerings of hamburgers and steak tenderloin sandwiches. Hot dog prices went up to 15 cents (from a dime), burgers were a quarter and steak tenderloin sandwiches cost 40 cents.

Business continued to be strong through the 1950s and '60s. But in 1973, tragedy struck. Lake levels were high that spring, which led to excess water in the parking lot. One day while Irv was pumping out water, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 57.

Annis' son Vic Jr. stepped in, and in 1983, the two built additional indoor seating around the garage doors. A 1991 car accident left Annis with a dislocated hip, forcing him to retire. It took him two years before he could walk on his own again.

In 2000, Vic & Irv's was forced to close because of fire code violations. It reopened in 2001 after Annis leased the restaurant to Bruce Zicari, a retired Webster accountant who invested in the needed kitchen renovations.

According to Zicari, the seasonal swings of the business made it hard for him to make a profit. He closed the restaurant in October 2003. Manager Lynn Connelly, who has worked at the eatery for 13 of the past 17 years, says customers are thrilled with the reopening. ''It tastes like it used to,'' she says.

Klee says his strategy has been to ''go back to the old way of doing things: homemade onion rings, hot sauce.''

He has also added a few items to the menu - veggie burgers and garden salads - to satisfy more health-conscious diners.

Klee also owns ServiceMaster of Rochester, a commercial cleaning and restoration company, and his brother, Terry Klee, owns Don's Original next door.

Meanwhile, Annis is happy to see familiar faces and greet the new generation of Vic & Irv's customers.

''If a customer looks like someone I know, it usually turns out to be their granddaughter and grandson,'' he says.

© 2004 Karen Miltner, Democrat & Chronicle

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