Mr. Gene’s Dog House Is a Summer Staple

The beloved South Cumminsville hot dog stand has served locals since 1962.
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An oasis on Beekman Street.

Photograph by Megan Waddel

Summer is that special season when neighborhoods lean into their individual identities, with kids outside playing in the sun, community members populating busy sidewalks, and folks of all stripes gathering at local businesses to enjoy hot-weather staples such as ice cream, BBQ sandwiches and, of course, hot dogs. Considering Cincinnati has 52 neighborhoods, that’s a lot of food choices, yet Mr. Gene’s Dog House in South Cumminsville still manages to stand out from the rest.

First opened in 1962, this local treasure’s roots go back even further to a community a few neighborhoods over. “As far as I can remember,” says longtime employee Zerita Andrew, “the inspiration came from my original boss, Mr. Gene, working at one in St. Bernard.”

The Mr. Gene in question is Gene Kuester, a local legend who had a tiny prefab building hauled to South Cumminsville in 1962 to serve ice cream and hot dogs during the summer months. Over the years, the little business grew into a big part of the community, with its proprietor evolving into an essential presence in the neighborhood.

“He was always community minded,” says Andrew, who remembers Kuester being on site all day every day, only leaving the shop to eat supper at the home he owned behind the business. “He always sponsored baseball teams and football teams, and he was part of the community council. And he always gave young people in the community jobs. They could walk there and have a head start on whatever they were doing in life.”

Andrew herself knows the value of the employment opportunity. She first started at Mr. Gene’s in 1966, just four years after its opening, and has stayed on ever since, despite job offers that would have required her family to move.

“It really has been my mainstay,” she says. “My children went to the school right up the street from Mr. Gene’s. My babysitter lived on Cass Avenue, right around the other corner. I didn’t have to pay for transportation, and I didn’t have to bring lunch. I might not have had a high-paying job, but I didn’t need it. It took care of my needs.”

Much of the appeal of a place like Mr. Gene’s is timelessness, as a hot dog order has the special ability to transport folks to mid-century Cincinnati with a single bite. Which is not to say that there haven’t been some significant changes over the years. For starters, Kuester passed away in 2015, leaving the community mourning the loss of an influential figure, though thankfully not the business, which was handed over to Kuester’s son, Don, about 35 years ago. Mr Gene’s added cheese to great reception at one point, too. And fried food marked a notable menu expansion.

“Before we only had chili dogs, breaded barbeque sandwiches and we had chips and it mostly concentrated on ice cream in the beginning,” Andrew says. “But then a lightbulb went off, and he added a fryer, and now we have a lot of fried products.”

She lists chicken strips, French fries and onion rings as some of Mr. Gene’s more popular products these days.

Another change is the building itself, which was literally changed out after a bus crashed into the original structure in 1972. No one was seriously injured in the accident, but the crash compromised the building’s structure, requiring closure for a whole summer while they built the white-and-orange building that stands at 3703 Beekman Street today.

“We were down for a whole season and he still paid us,” Andrew says. “We helped his son, who owned car washes, and he still gave us a weekly salary. You’re talking multiple families that work for him, so he didn’t want to see them without anything.”

Now Mr. Gene’s Dog House is dealing with another change—not a permanent one, thankfully. But as the city replaces old neighborhood water pipes in a project that’s set to end in 2025, the landmark business is dealing with road closures affecting access to Mr. Gene’s. Customers have to follow a detour around the block to get to the eatery, and not everyone is happy about it.

“Some people don’t like to deal with it, and we have slowed down quite a bit, but our true-blue customers come through,” Andrew says. “You’ve just got to roll with the punches. There’s been a lot of changes there since I started, and there’s going to be more.”

For those true-blue customers or anyone else interested in braving the detour to visit Mr. Gene’s this summer, Andrew recommends ordering her favorite, a combo she terms The Original. “The Original is the cheese coney and the hot chili cheese mett. And any of the ice cream products.”

So when you find yourself hankering for a hot dog this summer, take the time to check out Mr. Gene’s Dog House. Just follow the detour signs around the block for a hearty bite of Cincinnati history.

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