Weenie Beenie: a little hot dog stand with a lot of history.
Presiding over a field of asphalt just north of Shirlington’s main drag, the Weenie Beenie food stand appears trapped in time.
In some ways, it is. The walk-up eatery, which feeds 150 to 250 customers daily, still prepares its half-smokes the same way it did on the day it opened in 1954. “The half-smoke is grilled inside out,” says owner Travis Hackney. “We cut it down the middle, with the skin on, so that it fries evenly on the inside.” Chili, onions, relish, sauerkraut and mustard are the traditional add-ons.
Local half-smoke aficionados take pride in noting that the Weenie Beenie predates Ben’s Chili Bowl in D.C. (whose half-smokes have been lauded as Washington’s “signature food”) by a couple years. Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl, who grew up in Arlington and Alexandria, even appropriated its name as a song title.
And there’s no shortage of lore surrounding the venerable eatery. Champion billiards player William “Weenie Beenie” Staton, who opened the stand with his brother, is said to have acquired the seed money for the venture through a series of winning pool bets.
An inaugural member of the “One Pocket Hall of Fame” (in pocket billiards, each player must score in a designated corner pocket), Staton was also rumored to be able to sink all the balls on the table with a single shot. He went on to open a 24-hour pool hall, Jack & Jill’s Cue Club, on South Wakefield Street in Arlington, which operated for 14 years before closing in 1981.
Hackney, 53, says the restaurant was part of his upbringing. His father, Theo, one of Weenie Beenie’s first employees, rose up through the ranks and ultimately purchased the Shirlington operation in 1987. He’s now retired.
Half-smokes are still the main attraction, although the menu has expanded over the years to include sausage-and-egg sandwiches, wedge-cut potato fries, North Carolina barbecue, bean soup and Philly cheese steaks.
“We don’t advertise, so it’s 100 percent comeback,” Hackney says of his customers—a mix of construction workers, WETA employees and the occasional family or cyclist wandering over from the nearby W&OD Trail. “It’s still the die-hard people who have always eaten here. Even if they lose their jobs, they’ll come up here for the stuff they can’t get anywhere else.”
At least he’s betting on it.