YORK, Maine —
Working with family can be a challenge but for Gail Stacy, her daughter Kim Coleman and their late grandmother and mother-in-law Flo, it was a tradition.
The three generations of women have been running Flo's Hot Dog stand in Cape Neddick for the last 60 years.
"A true Flo dog is with Flo's relish. mayonnaise and a sprinkle of celery salt," the current owner Gail explains.
"I tell people who come in here and order mustard and relish and ketchup, I say it's a waste of your trip. Why did you stop?" It aggravates Gail when people won't at least try the sweet and tangy relish her mother-in-law started making decades ago sending the hot dog stand's popularity among locals and tourists soaring.
And I mean soaring.
Flo's dogs have gone as far as outer space. Chris Cassidy from York, went on to be a NASA astronaut and on one of his trips in space, he brought a napkin from the iconic hometown hot dog stand. The evidence is hanging on the walls of the cramped eatery.
For many Maine tourists, their vacation starts once they've stopped at Flo's and waited 45 minutes outside before reaching the double lines that snake inside the creaky screen door.
The menu hasn't changed in six decades - hot dogs, chips, milk, and soda.
"You do one thing you do it right, it works don’t change it," Gail says.
When Florence Stacy bought the already existing hot dog stand in 1959 she sold dogs for 15 cents. Now they're $3. Flo, who became famous for her rough demeanor, liked to keep things simple. She left teaching in a one-room schoolhouse, first to eighth grade, and traded it in for a one-room hot dog stand when she moved from Mercer to southern Maine.
"She was a very tough lady." Gail remembers working with her mother-in-law, "I went home crying almost every night for four years." Eventually, everything worked out and Gail and Flo "got along great" but Gail had to prove herself to Flo first.
Although she passed in 2000, plenty of customers still remember Flo's gruffness fondly.
Greg Winn from Somersworth New Hampshire first stopped at Flo's when he was young with some buddies on their motorcycles.
“We were all rowdy and Flo...hollered, 'Hey!' real loud and we all turned and she says 'I don’t wanna hear nothin’ out of you until I ask. Stand on the wall and shut up!'”
Winn has been coming ever since.
Malcolm Winter says he fell in love with Flo the first time he met her.
"This very short woman with a hairnet and steamed up glasses says 'How many? I been cooking all day and ain’t planning on cooking all night!'
Over the years Malcolm continued to visit Flo even introducing her to his girlfriend. Flo really liked his first romance but when Malcolm brought a new date to meet Flo, she wanted nothing to do with her. Malcolm ended up marrying the date Flo disapproved of and through the years the couple frequently ate at Flo's and she never spoke to Malcolm's wife.
"When Nana passed, he and his wife came in and (she) brought a flower for my grandmother because she said I know she never accepted me but they loved her regardless," remembers Flo's granddaughter Kim Coleman.
For so many families, eating at Flo's is a tradition. Charles Bedirian has brought his children and his grandchildren straight from the hospital to visit Flo and now Gail to take a picture with them and with the iconic sign.
"It's neat to know my grandma was part of that tradition and I keep going on with that you know," says Kim who always told Flo she would continue her work.
The gruff, funny stories of the family matriarch seem endless when you stop by Flo's but she also had a secret soft side.
"We found out when Flo passed away how many people she had helped without anyone knowing it," Gail says.
Flo's granddaughter says Flo helped teens who were struggling and was very accepting of people no matter their faith, politics or sexual orientation.
"She was a very progressive woman for her time," Kim recalls. Of her toughness, Kim and Gail point out that when Flo started in 1959 she was a lone woman with a predominantly male clientele.
"She had to be in control, and she always was," says Gail.
When Gail retires, her daughter Kim will take over fulltime but for now, Gail still works two days a week.
And even though Flo passed away decades ago, her memory lives on in the unchanging walls of her hot dog stand and the lives she touched.
If you stop by the small eatery you will want to make sure you shut the screen door or as Flo used to say, "shut the damn door."