CIt all started in 1928…
Zack Touloupas was born in Karpernisi in the northern mountains of Greece. After attending school in Istanbul, he came to the United States with his father in 1912 – living and working in Florida and South Carolina.
Eventually moving to North Carolina, he worked temporarily at cafes in Durham. Sometime in 1928 word circulated through the “Greek Grapevine” about a restaurant for sale in Burlington. Zack quickly bought Alamance Hot Wienie Lunch and moved his family of four to the upstairs of the rented building.
The original restaurant had only 8 bar stools and 4 school desks for diners. The seating capacity remained the same until 1960 when an expansion project increased the seating to 44. As the restaurant grew in popularity, the regular patrons began to refer to it as Zack’s Hotdogs. The restaurant was a landmark on the corner of Front and Worth Streets until 1978, marked by a hot dog shaped sign with ZACK’S lighted in neon.
During this time Zack’s was located directly across the street from City Hall and served lunch to many of the workers, including policemen and the mayor. Other famous patrons have included former North Carolina Governor Kerr Scott of Alamance County, who used to always eat there for good luck while he was campaigning. His son, former NC Governor Bob Scott, always ate at Zack’s after his yearly physicals.
The secret behind all this success was the secret chili recipe that was concocted by Mr. Zack. In his thick Greek accent, he was often quoted as saying:
“I make it myself, from my head. I test how I like it with my tongue. If I like it, I think someone else will like it.”
To this day, the chili is still made to his exact specifications.
toZack and his wife had two children – John and Catherine. Following two years at UNC and a stint in the army during WWII, John joined the business in 1946. Catherine’s husband also worked for the business for a period of time. The restaurant flourished under John’s guidance. John and his wife Kaki had five children and all worked at the restaurant in some capacity during their childhood years. Kaki also assisted her husband for many years. Mr. Zack remained active at the restaurant until “retiring” at the age of 88. John continued to work on a daily basis until retiring in his early eighties.
In 1977, with a pending urban development project looming in the near future, John initiated plans to build a “new” Zack’s. Land was purchased, construction was completed and a grand opening was held in December of that year. The new location was on the corner of Davis and Worth Streets, just around the block from the original building.
In 1981, after graduating with a business degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, Zack Touloupas, who was named for his grandfather, became the third generation to run and operate the business. The younger Zack began his restaurant career the same as his father – washing dishes. Zack and his wife Sheila had four children and all worked part-time at the restaurant…as did several nephews.
After the many, many years of running the family business, the Touloupas family sold Zack’s Hotdogs in 2022 to local businessman and entrepreneur John Burton. However, the restaurant continues to carry on the Zack’s legacy by serving the same famous chili, hotdogs and fixings to its loyal customers.