FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, visiting
my grandfather, Cal Furino, meant one
thing: hot dogs. His food truck, Cal’s Hot
Dogs, was an institution at the corner of
Newark and Harrison streets, near the
Hoboken train station. Originally a pushcart, later a blazing-red truck, Cal’s sold hot
dogs, orange drink and little else to commuters, truckers and locals six days a week.
Cal was born in Hoboken in 1933, the
son of Italian immigrants Felice and Mary
Furino. Felice was a longshoreman. Cal
was the fourth of six children.
Drafted into the U.S. Army during
the Korean War, Cal went through basic
training at Camp Hope in Louisiana, but
the war ended before he could be shipped
overseas. He came home, married his
sweetheart, Claire Turek, and went back
to a job at a Hoboken paper factory. Seven
months later, he was laid off.
“There was no work around,” he
recalls, “so I got a pushcart.” The hot dog
stand was not meant to be a permanent
solution. “I said, ‘I’ll do it temporarily.’
And I did it for 52 years,” he says with a
laugh. Cal, now 82 and living a block from
his old hot-dog haunt, retired in 2008.
Prices for hot dogs in the 1950s were
charmingly low. “They were 15 cents a hot
dog,” he reminisces. “Then I raised it to 20
cents. I’d never jump more than 10 cents
in price at one time.” By the time he served
his last dog, they were selling for $2 each.
The regulars at Cal’s were especially
hot for his toppings, which he originally
dished out for 5 cents each; over the years,
they climbed to a quarter. The toppings
included sauerkraut, onions and chili—all
homemade. The onions were stewed in
tomato sauce. “My wife made the best
onions and chili,” says Cal.
Claire chimes in: “Everyone loved
our onions and chili. And they’d all say,
‘We’ll pay you for the recipe!’” But Claire
wouldn’t surrender the family secret.
“Never. I had hundreds of people ask me
for the recipe, and they all used to say,
‘Oh, we’re not going to open up a stand,
I just want the recipe for when I have a
barbecue.’ Yeah, right!”
Politicians, entertainers and athletes—
Howard and boxer Chuck Wepner—ate at
Cal’s. Old Blue Eyes never stopped by for a
dog, but that other Hoboken-bred singer,
Jimmy Roselli, did.
My grandfather’s most infamous customer was Richard Kuklinski, a contract
killer better known as the Iceman. “He
would stand in a certain spot at the far
end of the counter,” Cal recalls. “He used
to order mustard and onions every time.
He dressed normal, dressed sharp. He was
polite. You would have sworn he was a lawyer.” (Kuklinski, a Jersey City native, was
eventually convicted of five murders.)
Cal estimates he sold more than 2 million dogs in his day. He has no regrets. “I’m
very contented, I’m in good health,” he says.
“I have no ifs, ands or buts about my life.”
Remarkably, he says, “I still eat hot dogs
once a week”—often from a hot dog stand at
his old location, run by my uncle, Russell. ;
Giaco Furino is a Brooklyn-based writer.
His favorite from Cal’s was the chili dog
with onions and spicy brown mustard.
Hoboken’s Hot Dog Man
Serving the famous—and infamous—for 52 years. By Giaco Furino
THE WAY WE WERE