Arbetter's, A Westchester Staple, Celebrates 60 Years

Jul 5, 2019

For most Americans, nothing says Fourth of July quite like hot dogs. 

But if you have been a Westchester resident over the last 60 years, hot dogs also mean Arbetter's. The Boston-themed shop in the middle of a Cuban-American neighborhood has become a staple, even for those obsessed with cafecito and tostadas.

Lasting that long in the ever-changing landscape of Miami isn’t easy. For Dave Arbetter, son of the original founders, it’s all about change. 

“You gotta find a fine line to stay and to be able to change, and keep it the same at the same time,” he said.

Arbetter said he has put in more than $300,000 into the restaurant in the past two years, adding new fryers, new ceilings and a renovated exterior. It’s been worth it, as he said business has doubled over that time.

But for the customers of Arbetter’s not much seems different. 

Robert Arbetter, Dave's father, returned from the Korean war with the dream to open up a hot dog shop like the ones outside stadiums in his native Boston. But it was his wife Flaminia who was the chef. The Italian-American couple opened their first  hot dog shop in 1959. Her famous chili is still the most popular topping at the restaurant.

“The chili recipe is an old chili recipe from Le Marche in Italy and it’s more a ragu or a sauce than a chili.” Arbetter said. "Italians call it Sunday gravy, they put it on pasta."

The small menu hasn’t changed much over 60 years, even if the restaurant had to move twice before ending in its its current spot on the corner of Bird and 87th Ave. A natural casing all beef dog was added a few years ago.

Pete Anderson has been coming to Arbetter’s since the 1980s. He said the place is full of tradition for him.

“When we were in junior high we would take the bus, or our parents would bring us across the street to Tropical Skating Rink. We would all come across the street and get hot dogs,” he said. “They were probably fifty cents back then.”

While the hot dogs cost about two bucks more now, depending on the toppings, Arbetter’s still holds on to its history.

If customers are running low on their drink, they can get a 25 cent refill behind the counter. Better yet, if you say "I love Larry Bird" it'll be free. For some,  that can lead to the question, "Larry Bird, quién es ese?"

The back wall is plastered with sports memorabilia including Bird's jersey, newspaper clippings that have yellowed over time and signs promising free baked beans if the Boston Red Sox win the World Series.

Ted Niarhos remembers watching Red Sox games at home then coming to the restaurant. 

“All the times that everybody thought Boston was going to win and they didn’t and the disappointment in their face,” he said. “We were so sure one year they were going to win that he [Robert Arbetter] bought all these beans, and, like I said, they didn’t win and they were stuck with them."

There are also signs of modern Miami in the shop. Customers who sit at the bar eat might notice it is painted by Miami artist AHOL.

Arbetter’s has stuck with Westchester for a long time. And Dave Arbetter doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon.

"I spend about 100 hours a week here, there's nowhere I'd rather be, I love this place," he said.