AJ Texas Hots Reaches 50th Anniversary Milestone

AJ Texas Hots turned 50 years old this year. This staple Jamestown restaurant opened June 11, 1968, and sported the first fast food drive-thru in the city. Owner Sam Colera, who is about to reach his 85th birthday, plans to celebrate the anniversary of his business Tuesday with discounted hot dogs and soft drinks. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

Business is all in the family for Sam Colera, owner of AJ Texas Hots on Foote Avenue in Jamestown.

The hot dog eatery has been open for 50 years, an anniversary that will be celebrated Tuesday with discounts and giveaways.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary, the trademark Texas hot dogs will be sold for 50 cents Tuesday. And to celebrate Colera’s upcoming 85th birthday, soft drinks will be sold for 85 cents. Colera turns 85 Aug. 19.

After serving in the U.S. Army for four months, Colera’s work in the fast food business began in the 1950s when he managed Johnny’s Lunch, his father’s original hot dog restaurant that used to be located at Brooklyn Square. From 1956-68, Colera got his feet wet in the family business and decided he wanted to strike out on his own.

“That’s how I made a living,” Colera said.

Perpetuating his father’s name with the initials “AJ,” standing for Adolph John, Colera named his new restaurant AJ Texas Hots and opened for business June 11, 1968. Funnily enough, he refurbished a dog kennel that had gone out of business. The drive-thru window was already in place, making the 824 Foote Ave. location a perfect match for AJ’s.

Colera introduced the first drive-thru for fast food in Chautauqua County, something the local McDonald’s was interested in replicating shortly after AJ’s found success. Still, the national fast food giant could only achieve silver when competing for the convenience of hungry customers.

Colera said it took a couple years for business to really gain traction. By the 1970s, AJ Texas Hots was starting to become synonymous with Jamestown and the secret family recipe for the sauce that differentiates AJ’s from the fast food chains that populate town.

“The hot dog makes us different from anybody else,” Colera said.

Hamburgers, fish sandwiches, chicken sandwiches and Texas fries are also popular customer choices. A dog or burger with the meaty Texas Hots sauce can always come with onions or cheese.

“I used to make the sauce,” said Colera, who made it during his time at Johnny’s. “So I use the same recipe.”

Colera said he had always hoped his restaurant would become a recognizable brand in Jamestown. He said he is pleased to see business continue to pick up and dedicated employees work for him for 25, even 35 years.

“It feels good, really,” Colera said.

He mentioned that thanks are in order for his family and friends who have operated his business. His children Vicki Colwell and Sam Fitch are managing AJ’s, and he wanted to recognize assistant managers Christina Salvaggio and Melissa Powell as well. Colera’s other son, Tony Cafero, will be visiting the restaurant Tuesday as he used to work there too.

AJ’s has celebrated 25th and 40th anniversaries in the past, and on top of the discounted food and drinks for this anniversary, the restaurant will be offering giveaways, with four $50 gas cards. In addition, a $25 Qwik Lube oil change card and $25 Southside Pharmacy card will be given out. Also, 12 gift bags will feature restaurant merchandise like shirts and cups.

Colera said his business is enjoying more success, specifically in the past two years. After accepting credit and debit cards about six years ago, business has grown as a result. AJ’s shows no signs of slowing down as it enters its sixth decade of operation.

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