A sign above the door at Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs in downtown makes a shrewd point: “Now open.”
For longtime owner and founder Bud Sanderson, the declaration is a bid to settle a little dust.
The well-established restaurant has been open at its current location – Main Street at College Street, one block from the University of South Carolina Horseshoe – since 1989, but it recently underwent significant renovation.
The colorfully attired building with its ground-level parking lot got a new roof, new USC-themed decor inside and new paint inside and outside, punctuated by new black awning.
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“We’ve done quite a renovation, inside and out,” said Sanderson, who has operated the business for 37 years. “For a while there, people didn’t know whether we were open or closed.”
The continuing viability of the restaurant also may have been in question for the better part of the past year because people may have been confused about whether Sandy’s, known as much for its custom-made ice creams as its famous super dogs piled with slaw, was to be swallowed up by a student dormitory project proposed for the site. Plans for the dormitory tower have been dropped.
“We spent quite a bit of money (on the renovation),” Sanderson said last week. “It’s not (the kind of money you’d spend) if you planned on moving out. We plan on being there.”
Last year, a Memphis-based developer, EdR, scrapped plans to build a 15-story student apartment tower on the Sandy’s site, and that of its next-door neighbor, the Baptist Collegiate Ministry student center, amid opposition from USC.
The university contended the apartment tower was too tall at that location and would pack too many people into the area. USC also argued that the complex cast a shadow over the USC Horseshoe, probably the most historically significant area of the USC grounds.
A bright spot that might have gotten lost in the battle between EdR and USC was that Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs would have continued to occupy the ground floor of that student complex if it had been built, Sanderson said. And, the popular restaurant plans on being at the ground level of that location if any other suitor comes calling with plans to maximize the corner at Main and College.
“There is nothing planned right now,” Sanderson said. “I’m not saying people haven’t talked to us, to try to work out something. But as far as I’m concerned ... the only way that we’d be interested in doing something with the property is if we are in the same spot. We’re not going anywhere.”
Sanderson was not specific about what new ideas for his property he might currently be entertaining. “There’s been no deal made,” he said.
“I’m glad it didn’t (go away)” said Adam Fisher of Lexington, who met his brother, Wayne Fisher of Columbia, at Sandy’s on Friday for lunch.
The brothers said they have fond memories of coming to Sandy’s as children with their mother, stopping in for ice cream after a show at the Koger Center or the town theatres. Each of them dined on a Giant Super Sandy slaw dog Friday. “We’re frequent,” said Wayne Fisher.
Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs has four locations around the Columbia area, including restaurants on Broad River Road, St. Andrews Road and Sunset Boulevard in Lexington County.
The first Sandy’s opened in Lexington County
Some 28 years ago, Sanderson operated seven stores in the Columbia area and was contemplating opening a handful more in Charlotte – possibly starting a national franchise.
“I’m getting old now,” said Sanderson, who recently turned 76. “We just have four stores now, but four is a real good number. We’re just going to do the best we can with what we have.”
Sanderson said he next plans to do some upgrade work at the St. Andrews Road restaurant, opened in 1986.
A native of North Carolina, Sanderson came to the Palmetto State while working for Eckerd Drug back in the 1970s, he said. In 1979, he opened that first Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs restaurant in Lexington. Within a year, he moved to Sumter Street across from the Horseshoe next door to Cornell Arms Apartments, where he rented space for Sandy’s for 10 years, he said.
In 1989, Sanderson purchased the property at College Street and Main Street.
“My interest is staying in business. And I love the location – it’s been good to us and we don’t plan on being too far away,” Sanderson said.
Apparently, being downtown and at the edge of USC means everything to Sandy’s, named for its owner.
Sanderson, who owns Sandy’s but co-owns the property the business is built upon, said business is great.
“We pride ourselves on a good hot dog,” he said. “Business is growing and we’re serving the same good hot dog we started out with.”
The Fisher brothers, like many in Columbia, seem to hold to traditions when it comes to the city’s long-established restaurant base, patronizing old favorites as time goes on.
John Rushman, who taught math, algebra and geometry at Crayton Middle School for 32 years, comes to the Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs on Main Street about three to four times a year, he said, to meet former students who have gone on to college to catch up with them and see how they are doing.
On Friday, he met former student Cassie Hall, 20, now an early childhood development major at the College of Charleston, over a cup of ice cream.
Rushman had chocolate chip while his protégé enjoyed a mint chocolate.
“It’s just a kind of a place to come and enjoy the ice cream and pass the torch along,” Rushman said. “The ice cream is fantastic and they always give you more than one scoop.”
Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398