By David Yarger
While driving down Niagara Falls Boulevard or coming down Buffalo Avenue to Military Road in Niagara Falls, passersby will likely see Uncle Mikey's Drive Thru hot dog stand.
The stand, owned by Mike Heigel, has been a quick lunch destination for those on the go for around 10 years. Heigel has ran the stand in several other locations around the city, but said he has found his stand's home on the corner of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Military Road, right on the edge of Pine Plaza.
Heigel, a former real estate appraiser, said he got the idea for his own lunch stand from a fellow mobile eatery he used to visit.
"There was one guy in South Buffalo that had a tremendous clientele - there was always a line in front of his cart. I said, 'I'm getting too old for this. Now I'll try this.' "
Heigel, a Grand Island resident, said he chose Niagara Falls because he's originally from the Town of Niagara and there were stands like his all over Buffalo already.
Heigel said that, in his time operating Uncle Mikey's Drive Thru, he's had his fair share of ups and downs with some development owners giving him a hard time, but where the stand resides now is the best it's ever been.
"One of the guys at Benderson (Development) suggested that I come up here to this plaza. They had owned it for a couple years and sold it recently and said it wouldn't be a problem. So, I came up here and sure enough I'm on the corner - the first day my business doubled. I made a deal with the owners of the plaza where I rent the rights for a person to drive in the parking lot and I insured them, and the thing just took off. It's a nice business," Heigel said.
He noted he works a few other jobs on the side, but when Heigel's not at those other places, he's at Uncle Mikey's. He said the stand operates from around 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
With the job, Heigel meets someone new almost everyday and he said that's something he really enjoys.
"I just like people," he said. "I have a lot of friends that are loyal to this business and I carry only top-quality Sahlen's hot dogs in natural casings and the Angus steak burgers are really good and Wardynski's Italian and Polish sausage - it's a very simple business. It's fun and I haven't lost my interest in doing it."
One of the best parts about Heigel's stand is the drive thru concept in the stand's name actually lives true. Lunchgoers can drive up to the stand and not even get out of the car: Heigel will take their order.
Plus, the lunch is a good bang for your buck.
"You can drive right up to it. This is a hot dog drive thru. You don't have to get out of your car. It's a great way to do it, plus the prices are very reasonable," Heigel said. "My rent is reasonable here, so I pass it on to the customers. Two hot dogs and a drink is $6 - top-of-the-line Sahlen's hot dogs.
"Let's just say that, to get what I give you, there's not many places that can do it. And because my rent is reasonable, I can pass that on to the customers," Heigel said.
His stand does assure an affordable lunch, as one single hot dog is only $2.50. Heigel has a few other lunch special options, too.
Those looking to support Heigel's small and local business can head to the corner of Military Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard (right in front of Duff's and across the street from A-Plus) to see just what Uncle Mikey's Drive Thru is all about.