Grace Amond, who started selling hot dogs out of a trailer in front of her house in 1971 and went on to become a culinary landmark that drew locals and celebrities alike, died Monday.
Her death at age 76 came seven years after she and her husband Harry, now 77, closed her namesake restaurant on Route 111 in Manorville. She'd battled the effects of Lyme disease and emphysema before dying at home, "quietly, peacefully and with dignity," said her daughter Eva Haughie, 57, also of Manorville.
While the couple built a sit-down restaurant called Grace's Hot Dogs Plus in 1987, it was the homey appeal of her trailers with their hand-painted signs - first a tiny wooden trailer, then a 27-footer - that drew the long lines of customers who ate on picnic tables on her front lawn.
Luck was on her side: Business took off after Exit 70 of the Long Island Expressway opened just to the north soon after she launched. With Route 111 now the fastest way to the Hamptons, lunches at Grace's Famous Hot Dogs became a summer ritual for many.
WNBC-TV anchorman Chuck Scarborough recalled a "festive atmosphere. . . . It was just awfully convenient and it was just fun to do."
Amond used Boar's Head hot dogs and sprinkled her "secret ingredients" of Norwegian spices into the boiling water, said her husband, Harry, whom she married in 1981. Her first marriage ended in divorce.
"We used good quality hot dogs. They were expensive," he said. "You can use cheap, junkie hot dogs, but that's what they're going to taste like."
Amond collected the autographs of the celebrities who ate there, including Michael J. Fox, Liza Minnelli and former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos, and on her Web site noted the appearance of everyone from Sean "Diddy" Combs to Billy Joel, and a succession of New York City mayors, news anchors, models and stars.
But regular people as well felt welcomed by her smiling demeanor and friendly staff.
"Sitting with your family at the picnic tables felt comfortable and happy," said Linda Rigley, 59, of Glen Head, who went east most summer weekends with her husband, William, 62, and their three daughters.
"It was a ritual - I don't think we ever went without stopping. It was always the same, it was always good," William Rigley said. "It was the entrance to the Hamptons. . . . We still talk about it to this day."
He added, "It was a shame when she closed, just another piece of life that passed away."
Eva Haughie had hoped to reopen Grace's nearby, but failed to get necessary zoning.
But, Haughie said, she thought her mother was "proudest and happiest" about her large family, her friends and relations. In addition to her husband and daughter Eva, she is survived by children John Governale, 55, of New Mexico, Eric Governale, 46, of North Carolina, Lisa Governale, 41, of Manorville; and two stepchildren, William Amond, 56, of Wading River, and Elaine Amond, 59, of Colorado, and 13 grandchildren. A private service was held Wednesday.