The Very Beginning:
Christmas morning, 1958, Bridgeport Connecticut.
The start of a 4 year old boy molding his life. During this innocent time, every young boy wants to be either a policeman or a fireman. Captured on a fuzzy 8 mm movie begins my path. One of the first presents I opened was a little red fire truck I wish I still had. Then we go to a little belt with a toy gun, badge and play handcuffs, but that was all pushed away when I opened a huge box containing play plates, cups ,saucers, pots and pans. This was followed by a play refrigerator, stove, battery operated mixer and cool vacuum. So my career path begins, I want to help people and mostly feed people.
Moving forward to 1967 begins my career as a junior fireman with the Monroe Volunteer Fire Dept. This opened my eyes that I could help people and feed people as it was always about raising money for the volunteer fire dept. Pancake breakfasts, Bingo night dinners, Carnivals, Member parties. My love became the kitchen at all of these events. There was a small hot dog stand called Ligouri’s, in Monroe. There were no McDonalds or Burger Kings, just hot dog stands, as matter of fact, the little town of Monroe had 5 hot dog/hamburger stands. My mom & dad would take my sister and I there for lemon ice, hot dogs, burgers and fries. When the Ligouri brothers tore down the roadside stand and built a larger, sit down restaurant, I worked there at 14 years old.
The only problem was they wanted me to sweep the lot, cut the grass and landscape, but slinging hot dogs was in my blood. Every chance I had, I was inside watching, learning dropping fry’s and grilling dogs. My beginning career was on the move and I didn’t even know it.
1973, one year after graduating high school, I became a 2nd Lieutenant as a member of the Monroe Volunteer Fire Dept and a gun carrying member of the Monroe Police Dept. Auxiliary unit. Shortly after, I also became the K-9 officer for the Monroe Police Dept. and an Emergency Medical Technician who responded all over town in an old red and white Cadillac ambulance. Here I am fulfilling my childhood dreams. I was cooking for both organizations, the Volunteer Fire Dept. and Police Dept in a small town of 10,000 people include the community by hosting events that all circle around food!
1978, a very good friend of mine from the fire dept and his family were moving to Boulder, Colorado. They invited me to pack up and move to Boulder. What a great time Boulder was in the late 70’s. I continued my law enforcement career as a Resevre Deputy with the Boulder County Sherriff’s Dept. While working part time waiting to become a deputy sheriff, I took a job in the kitchen at the Boulder Broker Inn. I was a line cook and entered the management training program for the Broker Restaurant. I became the assistant manager of the new disco & bar called Jubilation.
1979, while working as a Deputy Sheriff doing crowd control at company picnic for Head Ski Company in Boulder, my life took an un-expected turn. I met Linda Scott, Blinky the Clown’s, daughter who was running her dads merry go round. 7 months later, Linda became my wife and business partner. By the way, we catered our own wedding reception. Blinky, my father in law, “tasting my food for the first time,” said “What the hell are you doing being a cop? You should be feeding people’!
1980, on to Monroe Connecticut to start our married life together. Still an active member of the Monroe Volunteer Fire Dept and a rookie police officer with the Shelton Police Dept, I still did the entire event cooking for both departments. Linda and I looking to supplement our income decided to start our own catering business. Steve & Linda’s Specialties began. I was asked by a friend, Steve, my buddy is getting married, will you cater his stag party? The word spread and it quickly became a small but thriving part time business. We catered bridal showers, wedding receptions, cocktail parties and special events. Police officer by day, Caterer by night, and almost every weekend. Linda and I together were developing a new path that would take us to our life’s work, hospitality and food!
1985, a move towards the direction where we are today. The same friend that I moved to Boulder with, in 1978, came into some money and was living in Manassas Virginia. Bob said, you and Linda have the experience with food and I have the money, come to Virginia and let’s open a restaurant together as partners.
We did move to Virginia, although as partners go, we walked away several days before the opening of Food For Thought, a deli style, catering, take-out concept. Our partnership and friendship failed. We were down, but not beaten.
Together, Linda and I with our drive and determination, found 3 more partners, yes I said 3. We opened the Corporate Deli in Reston Virginia. This became a successful restaurant in a large office park. Several months after the opening, the partners decided that Linda and I were not needed anymore, this time we decided that we should move back to Connecticut and open our own Corporate Deli.
1988, With $40,000.00 in the bank from the sale of our condo in Virginia, we found a location in downtown Bridgeport Connecticut, an old catholic book store that was 20 feet wide and 1 city block long, soon to become the Corporate Deli. Although we had that money in the bank, we did not want to use it all and my father co-signed a loan for us to borrow $20,000.00. Finally, the only partners were Linda and I, with our own money.
We opened and became an immediate success beyond our wildest dreams. 2 years later on father’s day, we gave my father the promissory note to tear up as we had paid back the loan. Unfortunately, the building we were in was scheduled for demolition for a new project.
We were forced to move around the block to another location in the heart of the banking district. There we became the Corporate Deli and Grill. We had a kitchen, hood, fryer, and grill. The success of our deli and catering business soared.
1994, October, our lives and business relationship was tested once again. Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today after surgery, chemo therapy and radiation, Linda is cancer free. But, as life changes and takes turns, Linda said to me, at the beginning of 1996 that it was time to go home to Denver, to help her sister take care of her parents. We sold the Deli, the name and the rights to it, had money in the bank and moved to Denver and scouted for a location.
1997, Downtown Denver, after purchasing a deli called Gab’s Sandwiches and Such, and renovating, Corporate Deli and Grill in Denver was launched. This deli was a challenge for us as it was in the back of the original high rise in Denver, The Denver Club Building. There was no street frontage so it was hard to attract the business. This was until, Kyle Wagner; the food writer for Westword Magazine put us on the map. In 1998, there was no category for Sandwiches’, but one was invented by Kyle, and we won Westword’s Best Sandwiches’ in Denver”, and our business soared once again. The word spread and the momentum carried us into another direction, corporate catering. So now we had a thriving Deli and growing catering business. At this time there were very few delis and caterers downtown. Many began to pop up. The Corporate deli flourished under our management for over 7 years. The quality of our food combined with our fast courteous service was what the the downtown area was yearning for, but we needed a change.
Ever sense re-locating from Connecticut, the word on the street was, “you can’t get a good hot dog in Denver”. As a matter of fact, when I was craving a dog, I went to the cart that was outside Home Depot. Back east where I lived, there were lots of hot dog stands that were all family owned. Why not us, let’s do hot dogs.
2004, after selling our deli, name and rights once again, we decided to do hot dogs, and purchased a large food truck that I found on line in Connecticut. The wording on the side of our truck said, “We used to do Deli, now we do Dogs”! We connected with our long time deli supplier, Thumann’s of New Jersey. We had been using Thumann’s since we began our first deli. Knowing their quality and consistency, it was obvious they would supply our hot dogs.
These hot dogs have a fantastic taste unlike any other hot dogs in Colorado, combining natural casing with a flavorful blend of beef and pork with a smoky flavoring that “snaps” every time you bite it. There is NO Fillers, No MSG, lower in sodium and are the only certified “Gluten Free” hot dogs in the country. They are nearly ¼ lb and are served on our fresh Sara Lee, soft & smooth, whole grain white, hot dog rolls.
Linda and I sold our hot dogs at the Cherry Creek, Stapleton, and Evergreen Farmers Markets, parties and special events. We kept getting calls on my cell phone by folks that ate our dogs wondering “where are you today” because they were craving our dogs. We knew then that we really had something.
To have a successful restaurant business, several things must be present. Aside from great quality of food, reasonable prices, fast and courteous service, there must be a Point of Difference with Craveability. You must be different than you competition and you want people to crave your food.
February 20, 2006, we opened Steve Snappin Dogs at the corner of Colfax and Monroe Street. Shortly after opening we won “Best New Store on Colfax” from Westword and received an honorable mention in “Americas Best Hot Dogs across America #11” by AOL City Guide. We have also won Best Hot Dogs in Denver, 2006, Rocky Mountain News, Best Hot Dogs, 5 years in a row, 2007-2011, Westword’s Readers choice, Best Hot Dogs in Denver 2012, Westword Magazine, One of the Top 10 Best New Restaurants in 2006, 5280 Magazine, Best Hot Dogs 2009 and 2010 and 2007, 101 best dining experience in Denver, 5280 Magazine. In September 2009 our Smashburger and Fries got the cover of 5280 magazine with a great story about our hot dogs in their cheap eats section.
In addition to serving top quality hot dogs and buns, and the original smashburger, with great toppings, there is something for everyone at Steve’s. We have skin on French fries, beer battered onion rings, sweet potato tots, old fashioned chili cheese fries with my “new” recipe” of chili con carne. Deep fried green beans and carrots. We have shakes & malts all made with Blue Bunny ice cream, Fresh Squeezed lemon and limeades, Philly’s, a full Vegetarian, kids, and gluten free menu.
On our 6th anniversary we introduced our own micro brew, Steve’s Snappin Ale. A light golden ale, infused with sweet cherry peppers pared to our dogs, chili and smashburger.
Grow the business at our current location. Build the brand by putting our hot dogs in grocery stores, markets sports venues and the airport.
We also continue our community involvement and to this date have raised almost $10,000.00 for our charity, Project Angel Heart as well as donating over $5000.00 to Denver area public and private schools and organizations, through our night out fundraiser program.
Sincerely, Steve and Linda Ballas