But it is a surprise that two decades later, Hirsh himself is reviving Levis (say it LEV-iss), a concept he had called dated.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing, especially in the food business, where childhood memories are welded. You can buy a burger again at Gino's. The Horn & Hardart name is out there. Someone bought the Bookbinder's soup line and is pushing varieties trendier than clam chowder.
A couple of years ago, Hirsh began producing all-beef "Levis hot dogs" and selling them to takeout shops; he said he had about 20 accounts.
The wholesale business inspired him to revive the idea of selling franchises, and he decided to open the first store himself.
Hirsh found a former ice cream shop next to a tire store on traffic-whizzing Old York Road in Abington.
Neon - in the form of a window sign, not Levis' two-story iconic monster that for decades glowed orange in the night sky near South Street - lures you inside. Then that hauntingly smoky hot dog aroma hits.
But the Levis hot dog is not a Levis hot dog. At least not the same Levis hot dog anyone under 60 or so years old could possibly remember.
They're hearty, bursting with juiciness and possessing a pleasing snap.
Hirsh, with characteristic bluntness, said Levis' wiener recipe had been adulterated over the years - so much so that the last batches of so-called Levis hot dogs were no better than cheap franks from the supermarket.
Hirsh said he found Levis receipts for meat dating to more than a half-century ago. Back then, Formost - a long-ago South Philadelphia kosher butcher - produced the hot dogs. While reviewing the documents, Hirsh said, "I could see where they started cheapening up the cuts of meats." By the time Levis closed in 1992, "they were using beef trimmings."
Hirsh said the current dogs are five-to-a-pound and are made from whole cuts of beef, contain no milk products (sometimes added as a stabilizer), and are lower in fat than many competitors' franks.
Working from recipes on his home food processor, he churned out Levis condiments, including pepper hash, the sweet-and-sour vegetable dice. He had the good sense to use kosher knishes from Lipkin & Son bakery, a local favorite.
His clientele is older, he acknowledges, but comes from all over. Hot dog fanatics. Elderly widows and widowers come in for a "combo," which only a few other shops attempt. People in their 50s and 60s come in to relive their youth and bring their children to experience the joys of pepper hash. He offers salads and South Philly sandwiches, and even ice cream, which the original Levis shop sold. Champ Cherry, cream, and other soda flavors are on tap.
"We're not just selling nostalgia," Hirsh said. "Everybody wants a séance with their dead father."
The Levis store is at 966 Old York Rd., Abington, Pa., 215-572-1895.
Kasha and Bow Ties
Makes 4 servings
1/2 box (8 ounces) bow-tie (farfalle) pasta
1/2 cup Wolf's kasha (buckwheat groats, medium size)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or 2 fresh cloves, pressed through a garlic press)
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
1 cup water
Gravy from brisket or brown gravy (for serving)
1. Boil bow ties in a large pot of salted water until al dente.
2. Beat egg and mix with dry kasha. Stir in salt, pepper, and garlic powder (or fresh garlic). Put mixture in frying pan over low heat and stir until kasha grains are dry.
3. Add beef broth, water, and chopped onions. Cover pan and simmer until liquid is absorbed. Occasionally open lid and fluff kasha. When practically dry, remove kasha and mix together with drained pasta. Adjust seasoning and serve with gravy.
- From Elliot Hirsh
Per serving: 282 calories, 12 grams protein, 51 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 3 grams fat, 88 milligrams cholesterol, 810 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Contact Michael Klein at email@example.com.