Nothing says New England summer better than a split-top hot dog roll, buttered and toasted, its crusty exterior the perfect bed for hot dogs, of course, but better yet, creamy lobster salad or fried clams. Long associated with fish shacks, backyard barbecues, and Fenway Park, this iconic staple got its start during the post-World War II boom of automobile travel and the growth of America’s first franchised restaurant chain: Howard Johnson’s.
Variously called top-sliced, top-loading, or frankfurter roll, the style was developed sometime in the mid- to late ’40s, explains Michael Cornelis, vice president of American Pan, which makes baking pans for the industry. Howard Johnson’s approached J. J. Nissen bakery of Maine to develop a special bun for its fried clam strip sandwich. The restaurant chain wanted top sliced rolls that would stand upright and be easier to prepare, serve, and eat.