The place is called Skeeter’s. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall on Main Street in Wytheville, Virginia. An old sign painting on the side of the brick building claims they have sold over
6 9 million hot dogs. I was hooked on this place even before I walked inside and was greeted by a friendly staff, a comfortable atmosphere, and two great hot dogs.
I was on assignment to shoot photos of things to do in Wytheville, Virginia. This little town nestled in the mountains of Southwest Virginia sits at the intersection of Interstates 81 & 77. It’s an hour from just about anything you could want to do which is part of what makes this town a popular destination for travelers.
A few days before heading up the Interstate from my home in Abingdon I decided to do some research. I asked a few friends, posted a status on my Facebook photography page, asking what I should do in Wytheville. The one most frequent answer was: “Get a hot dog at Skeeter’s.” I’m a fan of hot dogs to begin with, so this was an easy part of my day.
I’m also a fan of little hole-in-the-wall places to eat. When I was a kid there was a place in Virginia Beach called Nick’s that was the very definition of a hole-in-the-wall (when I was about 16 they knocked a hole in another wall and doubled their seating capacity). There is just something cozy, comfortable, and charming about these little restaurants.
In the 1920’s U.S. Highway 21 was built, passing through the middle of town, and linking hundreds of towns and cities between the far north and deep south (the highway was dubbed the Great Lakes to Florida Highway). Wytheville was a happening place, growing and expanding, and needed the services of an old-fashioned grocery store. E.N. Umberger decided to open a grocery store in which he would sell typical groceries, had their own meat shop, and hot dogs on the side to their customers. He named the store Skeeter’s, the nickname of his son J. Norris Umberger.
In 1940 Umberger moved the business to it’s current location on Main Street, ceased selling groceries, and instead focused on fresh meats and the hot dogs. At the time, grocery chains like Piggly Wiggly did not sell meat so locals still turned to the Umberger Store. In 1953 E.N. Umberger passed away, leaving his son J. Norris “Skeeter” the owner of the business. In the 1960’s he chose to stop selling meats, marking the beginning of the business as solely a restaurant. Today the restaurant is owned by locals Bill & Farron Smith, who have continued the tradition of a small restaurant with an even smaller menu that still makes delicious food.
About that food. Skeeter’s maintains a small menu that focuses more on quality than quantity, which has worked out well for them so far. The breakfast menu includes items like an egg in a hole (a hole cut in a piece of bread, cracked egg placed inside, cooked to suit and served), a few biscuit sandwiches, oatmeal, and grits. The lunch menu has more to offer ranging from four types of hot dogs (you can also customize your very own), barbecue, chili beans, and a range of sandwiches.
I wasn’t about to invest in one of my travel writer quests today (I’ve been known to sample the entire menu so I can write about, but I had hiking to do this day), so instead I just ordered two of their cheese dogs. I found myself distracted chatting with the friendly manager for a few minutes and before I knew it I had two messy-looking ‘dogs sitting at my table (took less than five minutes to get my meal). Sure, they were a bit messy and made with that pink-looking wiener, but the wiener and bun was steamed, the cheddar cheese was thick and gooey, and the chili was amazing. There was no strange aftertaste like you get with those pink ‘dogs at gas stations (and none of the usual after effects about an hour later). These hot dogs were delicious and worth every morsel I fit into my watering mouth.
As it turns out, this is a popular spot from all the nearby towns. A few regulars slid into the restaurant and sat at the bar (they had their usual meal sitting in front of them without even asking). A family from nearby Marion (about 30 minutes away) had come up just to try lunch here. A middle-aged man on a motorcycle stopped here while on his way from Sparta, North Carolina to Bluefield, West Virginia. People just know about this place, the great food, the good reputation, and they flock here almost every day of the week.
Wytheville has developed over the last decade the same as a lot of other towns along Interstates: they have a corporate facade with towering, glowing signs and the lure of cheap, fast food. But if you travel just off the interstate for about ten minutes you’ll find Main Street. Plenty of parking on Main Street and all adjoining streets make it easy to get to Skeeter’s. The staff is fast and friendly. The food is priced perfectly (I paid $6.23 for two hot dogs and a large drink). Forget the chain fast food places at the interstate and take a few extra minutes to get quality food that won’t disappoint.