…”two hot dogs and a drink”

Kannon's Cafe was an institution in downtown Zebulon, NC for decades. Although long gone, you can still enjoy their unusual chili by making it yourself.
Kannon’s Cafe was an institution in downtown Zebulon, NC for decades. Although long gone, you can still enjoy their unusual chili by making it yourself.

When you have a craving, nothing will cure a hot dog hankering  like a good old hot dog (or two) and a drink… or as some of us say it, “drank.”  For those who don’t know, a drink/drank is what some folks call a pop or soda.  Just not what we call ’em in my parts and when we hear that, we know right off “you ain’t from ’round here.”

Growing up in my quaint town of Zebulon (NC), there was a little place on Arendell Ave. (aka “Main Street”) where folks would flock to, especially on Saturday mornings (yes, hot dogs for breakfast).  Kannon’s Cafe was a rather small place, with BIG chili… wobbly old-timey bar stools, the kind bolted into the floor… and pictures of the Pope and other symbolic Catholic accoutrement.  For most of us, those things were ‘weird’ because we didn’t know many (any) Catholics back then… being mostly  Southern Baptists and Methodists.  The only picture we had of any religious peeps was mostly limited to Jesus… so that little unframed ragged-edge picture of a big elderly man propped up on the shelf looking at you while eating at the bar in what appeared to be a big white sheet-type thing and crownish looking headgear was…. just weird.   My daddy did love to belly up to their cafe bar and tell a Catholic joke or two, especially if it involved the Pope.  Not to be mean… just to get those gals riled up a bit.  It worked.  Every time.

Although Kannon’s is long gone, you either l.o.v.e.d. their chili, or hated it… along with the “stink” of the invisible cloud over downtown Zebulon when it was cooking.  Patriarch “Mr. Barker” Kannon was old when I first remember him.  He just got older.  And when he could barely walk anymore, he would just sit in the window in that little wooden cafe chair, arms crossed on his big belly in his gray cafe coat…  and watch us all line up out the door for a hot dog and a drink… ice cold drinks in a flip-off metal top glass bottle like they ought to be…  retrieved by sister Lily… and mostly, you were either a “short coke” dranker or Pepsi fan.  I’m a Pepsi gal… that taste WAS born in North  Carolina ya know.

The three Kannon ladies did all the work… not going to name names here, but I always felt so sad for “L” because she was often treated shamefully and spoken to not-so-nicely by an older sister.  That little sister seemed to never be able to do anything right.  She was one person where the word “meek” comes to mind, yet her disposition and quiet smile was always kind.

There is no telling how many gabillions of dollars Mr. Barker sat in that window and watched come in the door… because of ‘the’ chili… and those bright red hot dogs sizzling in rows on that old grill encased in the glass windowbox… smell-o-vision at its finest… methodically rolled around ever so gently,  cooked to glistening perfection… some near burnt for folks like me who preferred ’em that way… tucked into those soft steamed rolls (the only way a dog or burger bun should be served)… passed from one sister to the next who squirted a quick line of mustard, then painted with a spoon of that chili.  To complete the “dance,” sister Lily would get and hand you drinks, then push down those keys on the realllllly old cash register for each hot dog and drink in the order, take your money then dance off to the drink box for the next one in line.

Everybody wanted the recipe.  We all speculated on what was in it.  We guessed everything you could think of… I even thought it had cabbage in there since it had a smell about it, albeit a good one for most of us.  That “stink” was like nothing we smelled anywhere else and the chili, for those of us who love it, was a must-have on most late Saturday mornings.

When I was in 12th grade, I got to leave at lunchtime everyday to go to work.  It would be nothing for me to have a wad of money for a “run” to Kannon’s to take back to all my friends at “the smoking area” for lunch.  Many a day I would call and tell them to have 60 hot dogs ready for me.

Way back in the early 80’s, I did my first cookbook… a compilation of Perry family favs.  Someone had slipped me the recipe from an employee who cooked it there… so I put it in my cookbook… always worried they would sue me!  I have had several folks tell me they don’t think this recipe “tastes like Kannon’s.”  It may be because over the years, (I believe) the sister’s would ‘thin’ the chili (to make more gabillions of dollars) so there towards the end, it was losing its good rich taste and was not like when Mr. Barker was around.  Having eat these things since a toddler, I clearly witnessed the slow weakening of the chili.  This recipe is thick and deep in flavor… unlike what came to be towards the end of the cafe’s days.

I’m pretty sure some of my childhood chubbiness can be attributed to Kannon’s Hot Dogs.  Because my daddy’s office at First Federal Savings and Loan was directly across the street, and almost every day after school, my mama would take me to see daddy and he’d give me money to run across the street and get ….a hot dog and a drink.  How I’d love to go back to that simpler time… for the “original” rich Kannon’s Chili hot dog… and a drank, in a glass bottle… on a wobbly bar stool being watched over by the Pope.  Sometimes, even adding a little bag of tater chips.  Mostly though, I’d just fill up on 2 hot dogs with my drank… and didn’t DARE ask for ketchup on the dog… they just didn’t like that and would give you the mean=eye if you did!  Just like your dress… if you weren’t clothed to their liking, they’d damn sure tell you not to EVER come in there “dressed like that again!”  Some were simply refused service.  My sister and boyfriend at the time had been cutting grass one Saturday morning… they went in for a hot dog and drank, and got one of those “talking tos” and the poor fellow NEVER went back again… after the chewing-out sis got telling her she “knew better than to bring him in here looking like THAT!”  (shorts and a tank top… on a hot July day)

So here’s the recipe… I hope those of you from around Zebulon will share your Kannon’s memories down below and let’s all take a stroll down memory lane.  For those of you who live in other areas, if you had a hot dog joint like this, tell us about that too!


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By Wendy Perry

A quirky kinda gal... who knows life is too short and wants to enjoy the ride and share it with anybody who wants to come along, and even those who don't! A God fear'n sister, aunt (Dee Dee), Marketing Home Economist & Culinary Adventurist (and ECU Pirate) who thinks HOME EC is k.e.w.l. and needs a resurrection... and is on a mission to do just that! It's revival time ~ Hallelujah and pass the plate ~


  1. Today, I went to the beachfront with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

  2. Hi Wendy, Long time since I have seen you, you might have been 3 1/2 feet tall at the time. I have been trying to duplicate Kannon hot dog chili recipe for several years. I think there are possibly 3 missing ingredients which are a splash of olive oil, a bit of pickle relish, and a dash of mustard seed. I remember that unique flavor and remember seeing small bits of each in the chili. By the way, I am Lyndo’s brother and we have had many discussions about those hot dogs.

    Please relay your thoughts. Also, is Pauline Tant still alive?

  3. Also, I used to love to see them women riled up. I’ll never forget one time I walked in and “P” was yelling at one of the customers at the bar … “I have you know we went to good schools!”

    I have no idea what the argument was about but it was always fun to see them riled up.

  4. What a great article, Wendy. I have read it a couple of times to relive such a special time in Zebulon.

    I remember the rumor was they put dog food in their chili. I guess this is what happens when secrets remain that way for too long — they lead to preposterous guessing!

    Anyways, this chili recipe is gold. I’ve made it several times and it tastes exactly like it. The only thing I do differently is add about 16 oz of water to the pot to weaken it. This is how I remembered their chili.

    I don’t remember Barker Kannon. I fell in love with their chili during the Pauline, Alma, and Lillian era. And yes, they definitely weakened it. I even saw them pour water into the chili on occasion to make it last longer. It was still delicious to me, though.

    What wonderful memories were shared in this place and how sad it is that it no longer exists.

    They even had vegetables from what I remember but somehow, I never saw them advertised. They never advertised that German Chocolate Cake, either, but I remember it very well. Lillian would bake it and I always rounded out my Kannon’s meal with a slice of that delicious cake.

    Before I would drive home from EWHS, I would often call them from the school to see if they would be open by the time I got there. Many times they would wait for me to get there. I would arrive in the cafe and they would immediately turn that sign to “CLOSED” as they served me, their last customer for the day.

    What wonderful memories.

  5. Hi, Wendy! I also loved Kannon’s hot dogs and chili. Another thing they would not add was onions (you mentioned in your blog that they would not serve ketchup.) We were told “the onions are already in the chili!”

  6. I agree with you Wendy, they watered it down over the last years. I put like more regular onions a just a few sweet onions in mine. I think I am going to try a little Paprika in it too.

      1. Hello mr.Fowler.if you dont mind sir. How do you make Barker kannon chili. I got a recipe from wendy but it seems like something is missing in it. That sure was good chili .

  7. Wendy What Kind Of Chili Powder Do You Use.I Been Useing MCcormik .But To Me It Still Seems Like Something Is missing.I Gave My Daughters Some Of The Chili And They Told me It Seems Like Something Is Missing To Them.I Have Made Several Batches Of The Chili And Done Everthing Just Like You Said Do Maybe Its My Taste Buds But If It Is My Daughters Say Something Is Missing.I Just Dont Know Seeya By Now

    1. Hey Milton,
      I have used chili powder from multiple sources without any variance in taste, or enough to make a difference. I’ve used it from the Dollar Store, and from my friend’s store in Raleigh, Savory Spice Shop. I don’t know anything else to suggest since everybody who makes the chili from this recipe agrees with me that it tastes like the real thing. This recipe makes a very “rich” tasting chili. I think I might have mentioned before, I believe that over the years, after Mr. Barker died, the sisters “thinned” it down to stretch it and make more money from it, and it didn’t taste quite the same as it did when I first ate it as a little girl… so maybe that’s part of it for you and your daughter. Other than that, I can’t think of anything else to suggest since I know for a fact this is ‘the’ recipe, and many of my friends make it and we all agree it tastes like what we got there over the years…

  8. Wendy Maybe You Do Have The Recipe And I Messed Up On It How Big Was The Pot Barker Used.It Could Be The Technic That He Used As Far As Cookimg The Onions And Meat. I Know I Have Tryied This Cooking The Onions Until The Smell Was At Its Peak And Then Cut Off The Burner And I Have Cooked The Onions For 2 Hours But Then The Smell Of The Onions Would Be Weak Smelling. I Am Going To Keep Playing With it Maybe I Will Get It Down Pat Direckly.The First Time I Cooked This The Taste Was Close To Barkers But It Seem Like Something Was Missing So I Put The Chili In The Refrig An After 2 Days I Got It Out And Put Some In A Pot And Heated It Up That Time It Was Really Close To Barkers But It Still Seams Like Something Is Missing.like The Flavor Is Not Strong Enough. When I Was Eating These Hotdogs All Through The 60,s And 70,s Barker Made That Chili Sort Of Thin It Want Thick When He Put It on A Bun But It Had A Robust Flavor To It. Wendy Where Was Barker From His Country Where He Was Born At.

    1. Hey Milton,
      One thing some folks do is cook the meat, then drain, then add the onions. Everything goes in the pot all at the same time… and cooked long and slow until done. Nothing is drained, including the fat. As long as the pot holds your ingredients, the size doesn’t matter. Maybe the kind of onions you’re using is part of the “problem.” I usually use yellow onions, but sometimes mix those with any sweet onion variety. I found it to be thinner in the latter days… when the sisters “stretched” it and tinned it down to make more money off a pot of chili! Keep playing with it… Their family is Lebanese…

      1. Wendy I Have Been Useing Sweet Onions.The Taste Is Very Close To Barkers.But To Me It Seems To Me Its A Little Weak.I Am Going To Try Yellow Onions And Sweet Mixed And See What Happens.Wendy I Didnt Know JW Perry Was Your Grandfather I Use To Go To His Gun Shop In Pearces And Buy Guns From Him Years Ago He Was A Very Fine Man I Liked Him Alot I Was 19 Years Old And Bought My First Gun From Him A Double Barrel 16 Gauge Shotgun I Still Have It To This Day I Will Never Forget MR.JW

        1. yep, that’s my Daddy Per, as we called him. I guess you saw his picture there on my blog? I was just 4 when he died and 12 when Ma Per died but do have a few memories… thank you for your kind words.

  9. Wendy I Tried The Chili Rescipe But It Is Not Barkers Chili I Lived 4 Miles Out Of Zebulon South96 For Many Years Me And My Daddy Use To Drive The Tractor To Town On Saturday To Get Them Hotdogs And To Buy Us Some Fishing Bait At Debnam Hware.I Guess We Will Never No What Was In It But It Sure Was Good Hotdogs

    1. Hi Milton,
      Thanks for dropping by. Sorry to disagree, but this is their recipe. Not only was it given to me years ago by a lady who worked in their kitchen and made it there, but Pauline gave the same recipe to my cousin along with the pot Mr. Barker made the chili in originally. Yep, he has “the” pot… And the recipe she gave my cousin was the same that was given to me 30+ years ago I put here on my blog. Many folks have cooked this recipe and you are the only person to have ever said this is not their chili… don’t know what to tell ya, but this is the real deal! and this is exactly what’s in it… I make it all the time… make a new batch and stocked the freezer just last week…

  10. I would go every saturday and eat at least 3 with a coke, Got my husband hooked on them , August 2 1997 ,we had lunch there I had my 3 with a coke, Ms Tant came over to rub my belly ,I was pregeant ,after she left David and I were just talking and wow my water broke them lady were all over it ,She going to have CODY here, that was so funny cause we had not pick out his name , so thats how my baby got his name was from them , Cody turn one he had his one year ole picture taken withh them and At Mrs Tant farm ,that was the old PUMKIN FARM at Tant cross rode . I do miss them all , love them hotdog,

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