Hot Dog! A 75-Year-Old Car Hop Serves Up a Social Media Moment
Service with skates.
CategoryMakers + Entrepreneurs
Written byJean Trinh
Photographed byMichael Becker
In February, Morgan Walsh posted a TikTok video of herself and her sister Kelly roller skating through the parking lot of their Cupid’s Hot Dogs stand in Winnetka. The clip, set to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” went so viral that it amassed 8 million views.
The one-minute video was filmed during the debut weekend of the sisters’ new carhop service at the Vanowen Street location of their family’s 75-year-old business. The carhop service, which takes place on Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m., was a byproduct of the pandemic and Morgan’s love for roller skating. The duo was finally able to repave their parking lot, which hadn’t had a makeover since the 1960s, and took their wheels out for a spin.
“It’s taken off ever since,” Morgan, 33, says.
Cupid’s Hot Dogs has been a fixture of the Valley since the sisters’ grandparents Richard and Bernice Walsh launched their first restaurant in 1946. The name was a nod to their nicknames: Richard was “Stupid” and Bernice was “Cupid.” The couple ran their North Hollywood, Van Nuys and Canoga Park outposts for nearly four decades.
Although Kelly and Morgan never met their grandparents, they’ve been able to piece together parts of their history through stories from family and longtime customers. Richard was known to be strict when it came to his dogs, and only served them just one way for years: with mustard, onions and chili.
Morgan recalls an elderly Cupid’s regular telling her that when she was a child and went to the original stand, she wanted a hot dog with just ketchup. That request was met with resistance.
“He was very against it,” Morgan says of her grandfather. “He did not want to give her a ketchup dog back then, and then at some point, they finally lucked out.”
After their grandmother died in the early 1980s, their father, Rick, took over the business as the second-generation owner. Rick dared to add ketchup, cheese and relish to the menu, and he also launched their Simi Valley location.
“I feel like we’re going strong, and proud that we’re able to continue our family tradition—and that we aren’t the ones to screw it up.”
Morgan and Kelly remember their father as a long-haired surfer who always sported a polo shirt, gold chains and a Members Only jacket. He had a penchant for bowling and driving muscle cars.
Kelly recalls hosting roller hockey parties in their Winnetka parking lot when she was young, showing off their restaurant to friends. The sisters would help at catering gigs and hand out sodas.
They never planned on taking over Cupid’s, though. When their father died suddenly in 2009, the sisters, who were in their 20s at the time, were thrust into the family business. “We knew how to make hot dogs and I knew how to run the register, but we didn’t know anything beyond that,” Morgan says. “It was sort of like, ‘Your dead dad’s payrolls are due on Monday, like, figure it out.’”
They struggled in the beginning but have since found their stride. The third-generation owners have been running their two remaining locations in Winnetka and Simi Valley for the past 12 years. (Cupid’s Northridge and Chatsworth spots are now licensed to other owners.)
Kelly handles their company’s paperwork and bookkeeping, while Morgan directs social media and events. They have kept the menu simple, but added their own touches, like sauerkraut, and Chicago-style and veggie dogs.
While putting their own stamp on the business, the sisters are mindful about connecting the present with Cupid’s nostalgic past. A few years ago, they launched Cruise Nights, an event that takes place every last Saturday of the month until October, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Winnetka stand. They have bands come out to play, classic cars line the sidewalk, and people eat hot dogs in the parking lot.
“We hear so many stories of everyone cruising down Van Nuys Boulevard in the ’70s and then going to Cupid’s,” Kelly says. “It gives you that small-town feel where everyone’s just there to eat hot dogs, enjoy the music, look at the cars.”
With the Cruise Nights recently making a comeback after a yearlong hiatus due to the pandemic, and their social media growth bringing in more business (their Instagram @cupids_hotdogs now has 22,000 followers), the Walsh sisters have weathered the storm of the past year.
“I’m just glad we’ve made it to 75,” Morgan says. “I think there were times when we didn’t know if we were going to. I feel like we’re going strong, and proud that we’re able to continue our family tradition—and that we aren’t the ones to screw it up.”
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