er had Neverland. Tyler has…well…Wienerland.
A small, unusually triangular-shaped building with a drive-thru cutting through the middle and a seven-foot-tall talking hotdog is a symbol of familiarity and nostalgia for many Tylerites.
When Wienerland first opened in 1968, it was known as Der WienerSchnitzel. Although the name changed during the 1980s, the recipes and systematic way of running the restaurant have stayed the same. David Pessink, owner for the last eight years, said that in keeping the same recipes, Wienerland has become somewhat of a “novelty.”
“We’ve been doing it the exact same way for the last 40 years,” said David. “That’s what it’s all about; consistency, quality of product.”
Located directly across the street from the TJC campus, Wienerland serves more than 5,000 hotdogs per week and 300 to 400 hotdogs during the lunch rush alone. The smells of sizzling bacon strips and fresh fried tortilla chips fill the small kitchen early in the morning. Although at 10 a.m. the kitchen staff seems relaxed, by lunchtime the kitchen is run much like an assembly line.
Store Manager John Pessink, and son of the owner, said everything must be done in a fast-paced, but organized manner during their busiest times in order not to keep the hungry customers waiting. Since the kitchen is small, any kind of interference, like a misplaced trashcan, can throw the whole system off.
Wienerland has fed a hungry TJC crowd for decades leading David, who has worked at Wienerland a total of 17 years, to believe the vast selection of hotdogs, chili dogs, and even tacos must be “brain food.” Not only are there a lot of choices, but the price and the close proximity to the campus prove to be enticing.
“It’s a convenient place to eat, especially when you don’t have any gas,” TJC student Bryan Martin said.
“It’s handy for TJC students because the prices are fairly inexpensive, and it’s just right across the street,” freshman Cameron Frowicksaid.
“If I’m hungry after class and I have another class after, I’ll swing by and pick up something to eat.”
Although Wienerland serves an average of 92 cars during its peak hours, David said that his customers know they won’t have to wait in line very long. Highlighting customer appreciation and service, David himself doesn’t mind going outside and taking the orders of customers before they pull up to the drive-thru windows.
“My name may be on the lease, but it belongs to my customers. I just keep it alive,” David said. He went on to say that his customers are considered family.
On occasion, David will don a hotdog costume during business hours. Standing at just over six-feet-tall, he said he grows to nearly seven feet when wearing the costume. The hotdog costume earns a few laughs from the vehicles in line, and elicits excitement from the employees of neighboring businesses.
“Hotdogs,” said the life-size hotdog while raising its arms triumphantly in the air.
Perhaps it is that very commitment to the customers – the willingness to help stave off hunger by overtly interacting with the crowd – that has kept so many people faithful over the years.
David said he has three to four generations who eat at Wienerland, which has made his business a “Tyler icon.” He said he recognizes some customers who came through in child car seats, who now bring their own kids through. Even dogs are welcome in the drive-thru, always receiving a dog treat or hotdog if preferred.
The recipes haven’t changed, and neither has the building in which Wienerland first began. David said he has had customers tell him that he better not sell his business because there aren’t a lot of options for a triangle shaped building with a hole in the middle.
So memorable is the peaked red roof, that the employees at College Books often use the fast food restaurant as a landmark when people need directions to the store.
“Everyone knows where Wienerland is,” DeeDee Hanson, owner of College Books, said.
Even people in Minnesota and Mexico are familiar with the place. David said he has had a number of customers order a large amount of hotdogs and chili dogs just so they could ship them to various states and countries across the globe.
Some customers who have moved away from Tyler still crave a familiar hometown snack from time to time.
Mary Pessink, who works at Wienerland with her husband, said that people just have to get their chilidog fix. She said the chilidogs are good comfort food for their customers.
A loyal fan base has helped to keep Wienerland thriving for the last 40 years, and David Pessink knows a good thing when he’s got it.
“I love Wienerland,” he said. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world, but you got to relish the moments.”