fb-pixel Skip to main content

Sullivan’s reopens for 70th season on Castle Island

Michael Chase headed to his car with two vanilla ice cream cones.
Michael Chase headed to his car with two vanilla ice cream cones.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Sullivan’s, the famed Castle Island hot dog stand, reopened for its 70th season Saturday morning, offering a taste -- on a snowy, rainy day -- of warmer months ahead .

While the concession stand typically shuts down for the season around Thanksgiving, it closed for just under two months this year.

The business stayed open an extra month at the end of 2020 to “help pay some bills and give staff an extra month of pay,” said owner Brendan Sullivan, whose grandfather started the business in 1951.

While the weather cooperated, he said, allowing the stand to remain open until the end of December, opening day has been a different story.

Advertisement



“Mother Nature is not really cooperating right now,” Sullivan joked in a phone interview Saturday afternoon, as snow turned to rain.

Still, he said, “Our customers [are] faithful. They’re braving the elements.”

At noon, about 30 people stood outside Sullivan’s, including former Boston mayor Raymond Flynn, a longtime opening day patron.

Another was Kenny O’Keefe, a Dorchester resident who explained when his tradition of going to Sully’s began simply by giving his age, 48. His last visit was Dec. 31, the last day the stand was open, he said.

“It’s a family tradition,” said O’Keefe — so much so that his father’s dying wish in August was to be driven down to Castle Island before going to the cemetery, he said.

“We went from there to the cemetery and then we went back there [to Sullivan’s] for dinner,” he remembered in a phone interview.

Owner Brendan Sullivan said he hopes that with the vaccine available for those 65 and above, the stand will be able to reconnect with its oldest patrons, many of whom stayed away last year due to the pandemic.

His father, who ran the stand for decades and is now in his 70s, was not able to go as often as usual last year even though the restaurant is “in his blood,” Sullivan said.

Advertisement



Saturday marked Sullivan’s first opening day under the new pandemic operating procedures, as they came into play after the 2020 opening.

Most ordering has shifted online, and gold dots on the sidewalk mark areas to keep customers safely apart from while waiting for orders to be brought out to them, according to Sullivan’s website. The picnic tables outside the stand had been removed, and most patrons opted to eat in their cars.

Still, if there is one thing Sullivan’s represents for many, it is memories.

 Sue Spinney checked her number as she was one of dozens that waited in a steady rain for their orders to be filled.
Sue Spinney checked her number as she was one of dozens that waited in a steady rain for their orders to be filled. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Sue Spinney, 54, of Weymouth said she has not missed opening day since she learned to drive years ago. Sullivan’s, she said, transports her back to her Dorchester childhood.

“Sullivan’s is like a great memory for me,” Spinney said in a phone interview. “It’s like getting in my grandfather’s white Ford and getting fried clams.”

While the inclement weather had kept some customers away, Spinner said she did not mind it because going to opening day at Sully’s is her first reminder of warmer days ahead.

“Opening day at Sully’s is like the first sign of spring for me,” Spinney said.

Before having his own lunch, Kenny O'Keefe fed Skylar two hot dogs.
Before having his own lunch, Kenny O'Keefe fed Skylar two hot dogs.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

John Tlumacki of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Lucas Phillips can be reached at lucas.phillips@globe.com.