In sign of approaching spring, Sullivan’s opens for business

Crowds lined up at Sullivan’s Saturday. The temperature reached 50; it will be 49 Sunday.
Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Crowds lined up at Sullivan’s Saturday. The temperature reached 50; it will be 49 Sunday.

Jack Conley, who grew up in South Boston and now lives in Dorchester, said he used to sit outside Sullivan’s food stand on Castle Island in the 1960s with his five brothers. His family could not afford its food, (hot dogs cost 35 cents in 1963) so his mother brought their food from home.

On Saturday morning, Sully’s opening day of the season, Conley beat the lunch rush to get two hot dogs with mustard and onions, as well a cheeseburger, fries, and a diet soda — all for him.

“Oh, we just know, being South Boston people. We know when it opens and when it closes,” Conley said.


Owner Brendan Sullivan had about 1,000 pounds of hot dogs on hand for the crowds who had not eaten at Sullivan’s since November, when it closed for the winter. On a day when the weather was good, he said, he could sell 200 or 250 pounds of them.

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People on Castle Island were not yet walking up from the beach in bathing suits and flip-flops, but Sully’s was open — and surely warmer weather would follow.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Kate Lin of Weymouth, her aunt Kerrie Tobin of Dorchester, and Baxter, a great Dane, enjoyed the food and the weather.

“We figured, let’s take a chance [on this weekend],” said Sullivan, whose grandfather, Dan Sullivan, opened the place in 1951. “All this weather, the snow’s just been coming down. I figured, let’s take a chance with Mother Nature.”

All 63 employees ringing up orders, frying clams, and stacking fries into cardboard boxes this season had worked there last year, Sullivan said. He will probably hire more, he said, to get his crew up to 70 before the mountains of dirty snow on the city’s streets make way for sunny days and sand castles.

“We might be a little bit rusty today and tomorrow,” Sullivan said. “[But] it’s like riding a bike. You just jump back on.”


Opening day business depends on the weather, Sullivan said. Though snow nor rain nor gloom of night would keep some regulars from coming, warm, sunny days draw the real crowds.

Boston hit a high of 50 degrees in Boston on Saturday and was expected to reach 49 on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service, a lucky break for Sullivan’s.

But the early taste of spring won’t last. Snow may be coming Sunday night and again on Wednesday, according to the Weather Service. The cold will be back too, with low temperatures down into the teens by the end of the week.

Just before 2 p.m. Saturday, the line of people stretched from the counter and out the door, to the edge of the sidewalk and along the parking lot.

Tina Martini, who has been living in South Boston for 55 years, said she waited about half an hour in a quick-moving line for her hot dog with mustard, fries, and decaffeinated coffee.


“I can sit down, pick up the sun, see a few friends. There are always friends down here,” Martini said. “It’s just a beautiful place, that’s all, to come and do nothing.”

The hot dogs will be half-price until next weekend — 90 cents, up from 80 last year.

“I heard my mother on the phone saying ‘My son will take me there today,’ while I was still sleeping,” said Michael Anderson, 45, of South Boston. “And what mom wants, she gets.”

Helen Anderson, 71, said the opening could not have come soon enough.

“I was dying for a hot dog,” she said, with onions, mustard, and relish. “All around except for ketchup.”

Helen Anderson said she had seen a few friends from the neighborhood making their own Sully’s pilgrimages. (“I just said hi,” she said.) But her son said he had seen far fewer familiar people.

“It’s not like it used to be. I used to come here, talk to 30, 40 people until I said, enough is enough. Now I don’t even know anybody. Times change,” Michael Anderson said.

Assumption College senior Brittany Tavano said she drove about an hour from Worcester to South Boston, a detour on her way home to North Hampton, N.H., to meet her friend, Amanda Higgins of Walpole, for the summer’s first hot dogs.

“Best hot dog ever,” Tavano said.

“They snap — and oh, the snappers!” Higgins said.

“The toasted bun is what gets you,” Tavano said.

Higgins’ father used to bring her to Sully’s when she was younger, she said. When Tavano mentioned she wanted a hot dog a few years ago when the two were at Assumption, Higgins said she knew just the place.

“I brought her here,” Higgins said. “Sucked her into the cult.”

Though it was too early for them to rollerblade along Castle Island like they usually do — they joked that perhaps they could ice skate — it felt like winter was over.

“The sun’s out, I have a hot dog, it’s summer already,” Tavano said.

Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at