The History of Nick’s Sauce

Nick Vrahas arrived in the Unites States in the early 1900’s at the age of 14.  He followed railroad work to the little town of DuBois, about 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.  A few years later his younger brother George joined him.  After working menial immigrant jobs, Nick and George saved enough money to open a hot dog shop he called “Nick’s Texas Hot.”  It is not clear where he got the idea for his famous chili like sauce.  Perhaps he had had a hot dog with a similar Coney Island sauce shortly after arriving at Ellis Island.  In any case, he must have liked it.  Ultimately, he created the recipe we now know as Nick’s sauce. The hot dog sauce was wildly popular. 

The hot dog shop proved very successful, and sold on average 5000 hot dogs per week. However, Nick longed to be closer to a more robust Greek community.  Just before World War II he sold his share of the hot dog shop to his brother George and moved to Pittsburgh with his family.  Nick had a knack for the food business and started another very successful venture making candy for department stores.

Meanwhile, brother George continued with “Nick’s Texas Hot” as a family business.  My grandfather, even at the age of 12, had to open the hot dog shop before school and return to the shop as soon as school let out. The business thrived.  It was a boom time after World War II, and Nick’s was a standard stop after a night out on the town.

In the early 50’s George retired to Arizona and sold the business to his oldest son Mark.  Mark greatly expanded the reach of the business.  Shortly after taking over “Nick’s Texas Hot” he opened a second restaurant named “The Maple Leaf” and ultimately two other restaurants. In addition, he opened a bakery named “The Tasty Pastry Donut Company,” and started another candy business.  After a few years he started bottling the hot dog sauce and selling in stores through out the region.  It remained a family business.

The hot dog sauce business continued to grow.  Eventually it grew large enough that my grandfather had to open a federally inspected plant, so he could sell the sauce across state lines. At the peak of the business, all the major grocery chains from DuBois to Buffalo carried Nick’s sauce. 

After several successful years, Mark added a few other products including Nicks Spaghetti Sauce, Nick’s Seasoning Salt, and Nick’s Garlic Oil.  Long before the current craze of flavored oils, Mark was making garlic oil by dumping a bunch of garlic cloves into drums of olive oil and letting it sit for a few weeks.

As a substantial portion of the work force (the children) went off to college, Mark got involved into politics, which inevitably took up a lot of time. At the same time, Federal regulations became increasingly expensive to meet, and he decided to stop bottling the hot dog sauce to sell in stores, but locals could still by it at the restaurants. 

When Mark retired and sold the restaurant, locals were devastated that they could no longer buy the hot dog sauce so he decided to make a packet of the mix to sell in local stores. After a few years, even this became too much work for someone that wanted to enjoy his well-deserved retirement, so he decided to quit making the sauce all together.  In 2008, the website was launched online by his grandchildren so that the legend of Nick’s sauce could live on. They considered it their duty to continue what started to grow as the seed of an American dream for a starry-eyed Greek immigrant.   

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