Why do they call it that? Mel's Hot Dogs: From heroes to hot dogs

3:07 PM, May 2, 2013   |    comments
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It's a Military May for our "Why do they call it that?" series.

Each Thursday leading up to Memorial Day, we'll have a great story about an unexpected connection between our armed forces and Tampa Bay.

We'll start off with a story that's a "real weiner."

Why do they call it Mel's Hot Dogs?

Hot dog. Noun.

1. A sandwich consisting of a frankfurter in a split roll, usually eaten with mustard, sauerkraut, or relish.

or

2. A show-off.

See also: Mel Lohn.

"The wizard of weiners, the pharaoh of franks, the sultan of sausages -- I could go on for hours," Lohn said. He wears a permanent smile.

This man likes hot dogs. But he loves people.

"I come in here, I motivate my staff, I tell some jokes, I count some money, and I go home. Tell me, what's not to like about this?" Lohn asked.

"And -- and -- every day, I get to eat a hot dog!"

In between bands, this wayward musician opened a hot dog joint along Busch Boulevard in Tampa.

It was a temporary gig.

He insists it still is. In the same spot. Forty years later.

"I'm getting older, but I look in the mirror, and I'm not sure who that guy is, because I'm still a kid selling hot dogs," Lohn said.

There's a whole lot more to the history of this place than just hot dogs. It's still all-American, but in a completely different way.

The southern half of Mel's hot dog haven is the last remaining building from Hillsborough Army Air Field.

The skies over Tampa buzzed and roared with the sounds of bombers during World War II.

Pilots trained to fly and kill at MacDill Field (now MacDill Air Force Base), Drew Field (now Tampa International Airport), and Hillsborough Army Air Field.

After the war it became Henderson Field, a civilian airport. And once Schlitz and Anheuser-Busch bought land here for their breweries, development gradually overtook the old runways.

Splash at Adventure Island, and you're bobbing where a bomber used to touch down.

Same story if you're sippin' a Yuengling beer or getting pulled over by a state trooper -- hopefully not at the same time.

The Yuengling brewery, Tampa's Florida Highway Patrol station, and much more all sit on the old air field.

Only a few fragments of the original tarmac remain untouched today.

And Mel's Hot Dogs stands as one last piece of a crucial time in Tampa Bay's history.

"Here's from one extreme to the other -- from war to weiners," Lohn said.

How about... from heroes... to hot dogs. Now that is America.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Make sure you're watching next Thursday morning.

We'll show you what three of our neighbors did to earn them one of the top awards in the entire Air Force. That guy shopping next to you at the grocery store? He just may be an American hero.

That's "Why do they call it that?" Thursday at 6 a.m. on The Morning Show on 10 News.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Thursday on 10 News at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy Award-winning series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Follow 10 News reporter Grayson Kamm on Twitter at @graysonkamm as he travels Tampa Bay telling your stories.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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