'Johnny Hot Dog' Keeps Franks Flowing in Times Square for Three Decades
TIMES SQUARE — He's Broadway's top dog.
Through five mayors, five presidents and at least two Sabrett CEOs, Ioannis Galanopoulos, 48, has kept slinging hot dogs, pretzels and sodas from the northwest corner of Broadway and West 46th Street.
"I feel like I'm a statue. I see all the buildings around me change, and I'm still here," Galanopoulos, whose first name is pronounced "Yannis," said last week. "It's like a boat in the ocean — I put my anchor down here."
For 34 straight years, starting when he joined his parents at their cart at age 14, Galanopoulos has served cops, CEOs, hookers, johns, the homeless, hustlers, and eventually tourists — as Times Square transformed from a once-seedy stroll to a global tourist destination.
The locals now know him as "Johnny" or "Johnny Hot Dog," a riff on his first name, and to those in the neighborhood he's become a sight as familiar as the Naked Cowboy.
"He's a Times Square icon," said Times Square Alliance director of operations Tom Harris, who regularly stops by Galanpoulos' cart for a pretzel with mustard. "He committed to the neighborhood. He was here when it was good, he was here when it was bad, and he's here when it's good again."
Galanopoulos never even intended to stay in Times Square.
He started serving New York's street staples in 1979, he said, helping run the cart his parents had opened 15 years before, shortly after they emigrated from Greece to the United States.
Times Square, of course, was different then — "not so great," in Galanopoulos' words — and his first days were inauspicious. In the first week alone, two men stole the leather jacket off his back as he walked to the Port Authority to catch the bus to Hoboken.
But with each passing day — through "millions" of hot dogs and pretzels that he's sold from his cart — he gradually became one of the area's regulars.
"It got inside me," he said. "I can't just give up now."
When he was younger, before he had a wife and three children, Galanopoulos did try other lines of work. He learned card and coin tricks at the old Tannen's Magic shop at 1540 Broadway, then spent three months making kings and pennies disappear on West 42nd Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues.
He returned to Greece for a spell to try his hand at business there. And at his cousin's behest, he even once donned a gold-spangled Speedo to work nights as a go-go dancer at a Village gay bar.
"Just once," he said with a smile.
Each time, however, he was drawn back to the cart — 20 hours a day, seven days a week, through 10 degree winters and 110 degree summers.
"It's a living, and it's a better business now than it was 20 years ago," said Galanopoulos, who stands without a cardboard box or rubber mat to soften the concrete sidewalk. "What else would I do now? I'm afraid if I start something else, it's not going to be successful."
The job has not been without highlights. Pepsi slapped a photo of him onto a bright green billboard in 2004 in an advertisement for Mountain Dew that also pointed the way to his food cart.
"Some theater friends, they came over and said, 'We've been trying our whole lives to get up there!'" Galanopoulos recounted with a laugh.
Today, anywhere from 100 to 300 customers a day visit his cart — a slight increase from the early days, he said. Many others simply stop by to say hello.
"What's up, big guy?" a mounted cop called as his horse strolled past.
"Johnny!" another cop and a mailman each shouted, as they pushed through the crowds.
Christos K., a manager for Gray Line tour bus company, has visited the cart weekly for 12 years to purchase the same thing: a hot dog with ketchup and mustard.
"John knows Times Square more than anywhere else," he said.
Galanopoulos smiled and shrugged. The job, he said, is equally a work of passion and necessity.
"I feel like it's my house. As long as I'm still standing, I'm going to be here," he said. "If I'm sick in the morning, I still got to come up in the morning. Life is expensive. This job doesn't have a retirement plan."
He paused. Looking around, he leaned close and fished two coins from a pocket.
"And," he said, one hand waving above the other, making a coin first vanish then appear, "I still know a few tricks."