Return Of The Neon Hot Dog: Old Original Levis Hot Dog Sign To Be Relit On South Street


Levis neon sign awaiting its relighting at South Street Magic Shop | Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

Determining who invented the hot dog is almost as difficult as determining who invented the hoagie. One story says the hot dog was created by Thomas Francis Xavier Morris, a Caribbean immigrant who served hot dogs in Paterson, NJ as early as 1892. Still another tale says the modern hot dog was inspired by a cartoon of a dachshund in a roll that was drawn by New York Evening Journal cartoonist Tad Dorgan around 1901. My favorite story says that the sausage-on-a-bun concept was invented by Abe Levis and Anna Solo Levis, who opened a little sandwich shop on South Street in 1895.

I like the idea that hot dogs might have originated in Philly. Add that to Philly’s solid credentials as Ground Zero for the invention of ice cream (popularized by another Caribbean immigrant, I might add), and it means our city has convincingly influenced America’s taste buds.

For most of the 20th century, South Street’s Jewishness was announced by the giant hot dog-shaped neon sign above the Old Original Levis Hot Dogs and Sandwiches shop. The Levis brand has been revived in an Abington store owned by Elliott Hirsh, who bought the original shop in 1990). The historic sign will be re-lit inside the South Street Magic Shop at 517 S. 4th Street tonight at 6 PM in honor of National Hot Dog Month.

Original Levis, now the vegan Blackbird Pizza | Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

Toast the relighting with a bottle of Champ Cherry soda, a Levis original, or look for one of the other hot dog specials at local businesses this week. We’re planning to check out local artist Hawk Krall’s hot dog art on the walls at Hot Diggity. Other events are listed below. For more information, see the South Street Headhouse District Facebook page.

July 19th: Hot Dog Happy Hour at Supper & Brauhaus Schmitz from 5-7pm
July 20th: Hot Dog Art Opening featuring Hawk Krall at Hot Diggity, 630 South Street
July 21st: Chill by the Grill at the Twisted Tail, 509 S. 2nd Street – 3-7pm. Grilled hot dogs, homemade lemonade, beer, and live music served outside.
July 22nd: Dog Days of Summer Block Party, 600 block of South Street from 12-5pm. Live music, kids’ activities, “Hot Dog Art” by Phantom Hand and Joel Spivak, and pet costume contest sponsored by The Pet Snobs.

The Philly Combo, said to have originated at Old Original Levis Hot Dogs, is available at Hot Diggity, which has taken up the South Street hot dog mantle | Image: Hawk Krall.

(Editor’s note: Thank you, South Street Headhouse Square District, for alerting us to this national occasion—I will take it as an excuse to eat hot dogs all month long.)

About the author

Hidden City Daily contributing editor Meredith Broussard has written for Harper's, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle,, The Chicago Reader, The Philadelphia City Paper, and Philadelphia magazine. A former features editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, she teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania. Meredith holds a BA from Harvard University and an MFA from Columbia University. Visit her website at

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