on February 25, 2014 - 6:54 PM
, updated February 25, 2014 at 7:03 PM
Aug. 1, 1936 – Feb. 21, 2014
George Ladas, a Greek immigrant who pioneered the “Buy 5, get 1 free hot dog” campaign at his Seneca Texas Red Hots and Hot Dog Heaven, died Friday in M.D. Anderson Leukemia Center, Houston. He was 77.
Mr. Ladas immigrated from Siatista, Greece, in 1950 and found work washing dishes while attending high school.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army when he was 18, and he became a U.S. citizen. He proudly carried his military identification/citizen card the rest of his life.
Following his tour of duty with the military police in Germany, he returned to Buffalo and opened Seneca Texas Red Hots on Seneca Street in South Buffalo in 1957. He bought a second location on Harlem Road at William Street in Cheektowaga in 1975, changing the name to Hot Dog Heaven in 1999.
He bought four storefronts next to his original location, tore them down and erected a new restaurant in 1980. Then-Mayor Jimmy Griffin cut the ribbon with Mr. Ladas when the new building opened. The location was a mecca for steel-workers, factory employees and politicians.
Still located in its original location after more than 50 years, the business operates under the motto, “Where Quality Predominates.”
Mr. Ladas, president of Seneca Texas Red Hots, was active until two months ago and held one last get-together with his customers, whom he considered his friends, in December at Hot Dog Heaven.
“The secret is in the sauce,” was his quiet refrain as he personally greeted and served customers. He created a special Texas Hots Sauce and regularly shipped it to Buffalo natives who moved out of the area but missed the taste.
Mr. Ladas’ “Buy 5, get 1 free hot dog” campaign premiered in 1980. “I have given away more free hot dogs to the good people of Western New York than others have sold,” he said recently.
He was the driving force behind the formation of the Independent Restaurant Group, which allows local independent restaurants to compete for national pricing with the larger chain restaurants.
Mr. Ladas was a member of Hellenic Orthodox Church, serving on the Parish Council for a number of years.
Survivors include his wife of 52 years, the former Alexandra Kafasis; a son, Christos G.; a daughter, Thalia L. Greenan; a sister, Nina Krestos; and five grandchildren.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Friday in Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, Delaware Avenue and West Utica Street.