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A grand finale for Skippy’s Hot Dogs

by Kristi Maier

@triadfoodies

A feeling of community permeates culinary circles in Winston-Salem that is unmatched in just about any city I’ve encountered. It’s evident this week as a group of restaurant owners, chefs, purveyors and artisans are coming together to help one of their own.

Skippy’s Hot Dogs has been a downtown Winston- Salem institution for 14 years. No one else does a dog like Skippy’s. The hot dogs are delicious and what sets them apart is that signature pretzel bun. Growing up in Pennsylvania, twisted pretzels were kind of a normal thing.

But owner Mike Rothman wanted to bring those pretzels to Winston-Salem. After a few years of selling pretzels and refining his concept, the hot dog on the twisted pretzel roll became Mike’s thing. And he’s enjoyed success since doing so. Winston-Salem is a hot dog city. And Skippy’s helped put it on the map.

A couple of months ago, Mike had to close a few times due to health reasons. Then abruptly, the sign said “Closed Until Further Notice.” Now, if you’re a fan of Skippy’s, you know (being selfish) that this is awful news. But it got people wondering, what on earth has happened to our beloved Mike Rothman? And then came the sad announcement that Mike had been diagnosed with brain cancer and would have to close Skippy’s to undergo treatment for glioblastoma. Even if you have insurance, this type of treatment is extensive and expensive and when you run a restaurant and it’s your sole source of income? Disastrous.

Restaurant owners from the downtown area visited Mike during the early stages of his recovery and got the idea to run his restaurant for him while he recuperates. Will Kingery, who owns King’s Crab Shack, Willow’s Bistro, and Silo said, ” We wanted to manage Skippy’s for him and there were folks actually volunteering to run the business for him while he gets better so he could have an income. We all put ourselves in his shoes. If we lost our income and had huge medical bills, we’d be done. But that’s just not what he wanted. He didn’t want the stress of keeping the business open. And we understand where he’s coming from. — he just wanted to focus on healing. ” So the group came up with an alternate plan. “We decided, ‘well, let’s just open it for one more week,'” Kingery added. “As a way to raise some money for him. And Mike got really excited about that idea and jumped on board with it.”

All the proceeds from “Mike’s Week” will go to pay his medical bills, while he fights the good fight.

All kinds of folks, professional and amateur, from the community have stepped in to help. Numerous downtown establishments like Jeff and Adam from Jeffrey Adams on 4th/4th Street Filling Station, Opie Kirby from Finnigans, The Moody’s from West End Coffeehouse, Mozelle’s, DiLisio’s, Rooster’s A Noble Grille, Graze, The Tavern in Old Salem, Spring House Restaurant, Quanto Basta, Camino Bakery, Kabobs on 4th, Chef Stuart Ford, The Porch Kitchen & Cantina, Bib’s, Atelier on Trade, Harrison Littell of Five Loaves Catering, and countless others, including Kingery’s eateries. Mary Haglund from Mary’s Gourmet Diner is cooking and handling the catering side of things for the week, while Vivian Joiner from Sweet Potatoes is scheduling the volunteers.

Joiner says, “At least 20 restaurants have said they will step up. It’s such an extraordinary outpouring from all sides of the community from the hospitality industry to just regular people off the street.”

Each day Skippy’s will offer the same menu you’ve been familiar with, though minus the famous pretzel buns. Kingery says, “That was Mike’s thing—he was an expert at that, so we’ll just have some really great splitroll buns.” And each day the chef leading the kitchen will feature a special hot dog of his or her own creation. “It’ll be a different twist on a hot dog—very creative ideas are being thrown out there,” Kingery says. Joiner adds that though there will be a chef leading the kitchen each day, dozens more from other restaurants will be there as line cooks, taking orders or just selling t-shirts.

Food distributors across the area are donating thousands of dollars worth of food, like Southern Foods, US Foods, Sysco, IFH. Pepsi is donating drink products. Tom’s Glass Works is donating a commemorative glass that will be for sale. Hanes Brands has a new spin on a Skippy’s T-shirt that will be available for purchase. Zoom! did all the printing. Dewey’s Bakery has offered to donate cookies to sell. The Winston-Salem Dash donated all the Nathan’s Hot Dogs and its staff has volunteered to pitch in. TW Garner’s Texas Pete and staff members will be there slinging hot dogs as well. And Skippy’s will also be featuring Birch Root Beer from Mike’s home state of Pennsylvania. When the kitchen equipment needed a bit of repair, Carolina Kitchen Repair volunteered to do it.

Local advertising agency, Mullen-Lowe is even working on a video to highlight the event. And the list goes on— Kingery says the group has been overwhelmed by the support, yet at the same time, he’s not at all surprised. “It’s just Winston-Salem. We work together,» Kingery said. “If you need help, we are there for you. If you need product, we can call each other and help each other out. That’s just how the Winston-Salem culinary community is. We’re neighbors— really, a team.”

And it’s true. The chefs in Winston- Salem know what collaboration is. And there’s a brotherhood and yes, that includes the women, that is beyond compare. Joiner says, “It’s just a testament to how cool the city we live in really is.”

Chefs/restaurants on the line and featuring a special hot dog will be (subject to change):

• Willow’s Bistro/Kings Crab Shack

• DiLisio’s along with John Bobby from Rooster’s A Noble Grille

• Bib’s Downtown

• Mary’s Gourmet Diner

• Sweet Potatoes

• Finnigan’s Wake

• Jeffrey Adams on 4th/ 4th Street Filling Station

• Foothills Brewing

• Graze

“We just want to give a huge thank you to everyone involved. It’s going to be very busy and kind of terrifying at times,” Kingery said. “But it will all be worth it in the end. We are just so grateful to everyone who’s involved and continuing to come forward.”

Kingery says after Mike’s Week, sadly, the doors will close on Skippy’s for good— yet—.only maybe. “After it’s all over, we’re going to clean the restaurant and all the equipment up. And Skippy’s will be for sale,» he said. «It’s a great space. It is already set up to be a pretzel factory. It has everything it needs to be a successful business. We don’t expect it to be vacant for long. It really is a diamond.”

As for Mike, who’s 53, family members say they’re taking his recovery one day at a time, but that he’s making great strides and becoming more independent. Mike’s mother, Harriett Rothman, says, “He’s a warrior. It’s been an adjustment being here, not only because he has to be in this rehab facility but also because he had to leave his friends.” Mrs. Rothman says that Mike is being positive throughout it all and has been following all the activity on social media. “He misses everyone. He’s starting to reach out to his friends, which makes him feel better. He’s just overwhelmed and touched by all the support he’s getting from the community and he tells us, ‘I might not have made a ton of money, but I made wealth in a much more special way—just knowing that people want to do this for me.'” Mrs. Rothman says she’s incredibly proud of her son. “We’re so proud of what he’s accomplished. What’s happening in Winston-Salem is awesome and unbelievable and heartwarming and there aren’t enough words to describe.”

In addition to the benefit of a huge amount of local press, volunteers have taken to social media to help get the word out. Be sure to follow Skippy’s Hot Dogs Facebook page for the latest updates. Mike’s family members have also set up a GoFundMe page. “I couldn’t be more grateful for the restaurant community, volunteers, and people who are going to come out and show support for Mike. I don’t remember if I’ve ever seen a community pull together to support one person quite like this before. This tells me that not only is Mike incredibly special, but so is the Winston-Salem community,” announced his niece, Marissa Goldman, via GoFundMe.

At press time, the page had raised nearly $15,000. Mike’s rehabilitation facility is in Pennsylvania so that he could be near his parents. If you feel compelled to send a card or note of encouragement, mail to:

Michael Rothman c/o The Jewish Home of Greater Harrisburg 4000 Linglestown Rd. Room 117 Harrisburg, PA. 17112 Volunteers are still appreciated to help set up, cook, assist and clean up during the week of the fundraiser and the week following as they prepare the restaurant for sale. If you’d like to get on the schedule, contact Vivian Joiner at Sweet Potatoes at (336) 727-4844.

Joiner says that on Saturday evening, the organizers and volunteers will reconvene for a grand finale.

“We’re being asked what we are going to do—.and for me, I’m not going to think about it until it happens. It’s a very touching thing—.to close a restaurant. To serve your final plate and lock the doors behind that final guest. It is not an easy thing. So I’ll let that moment play out as it happens.” !

WANNA go?

Mike’s Week at Skippy’s will be Saturday, April 23 to Saturday, April 30. Hours will be 10am to 8pm each day. The restaurant is located at 624 West Fourth Street in Winston-Salem. Phone number: (336) 722-3442. #mikesweek

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