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Classic fast food by the foot


At Ann's Dari-Creme - the wildly popular hot dog and ice cream joint in Glen Burnie - there have been exactly two changes to the menu since Ann and Ray Hines opened their red, white and blue eatery in 1951 on a quiet stretch of Ritchie Highway.

French fries were added in 1976, and starting in 1991, customers could get turkey subs - although they rarely do. For five decades, people have been coming to Ann's for foot-longs with everything - mustard, onions and chili - as well as cheese- steaks, burgers, soft ice cream cones and cold, thick milkshakes.

In its 50th year of serving classic fast food, Ann's Dari-Creme has no plans to make more menu changes.

This outpost of Americana has survived the construction of Marley Station Mall, which looms behind it; of Interstate 97, which was built to divert traffic from Ritchie Highway; and of countless hamburger franchises that have come and gone, over the years.

On Saturday nights at Ann's, the grease bubbles, the steaks sizzle and patrons spill out of the 400-square-foot space, waiting patiently as the waitresses move in a blur, getting the orders right without writing anything down. On a typical day, Ann's goes through 1,000 hot dogs, and on this Memorial Day weekend that kicks off summer, the soft-serve ice cream machine will be working overtime.

"Basically, as far as I can tell, it hasn't changed a bit," said former Glen Burnie resident Mike Clair, 48, biting into a foot-long hot dog with everything on it. He moved to Virginia 20 years ago but detours to Ann's whenever he's in the area on business.

"Oh, I love this place - smell that grease," swooned 58-year-old Judy Letchworth of Pasadena after placing an order for fries and a banana shake. She has been a regular at Ann's for 40 years, and she quickly sums up its appeal.

"They have a simple menu, but it's everything you like," she said. "You're just in and out, and it's always packed."

An essential stop

Owner Howard Pinskey hasn't tinkered with this formula since he bought Ann's 25 years ago from original owners Ann and Ray Hines, who spent the first 25 years building up a loyal customer base.

"There are people who land at BWI, and the first thing they do before visiting relatives is stop and get a foot-long and a milkshake," he said. "We have people who come in Cadillacs, Lincolns and pickup trucks; in suits, ties and blue jeans."

It's not just the customers who are devoted to Ann's. The restaurant's assistant manager has worked there for 35 years, three of the waitresses have been on board for 25 years, and one is the third generation in her family to work at Ann's, following in the footsteps of her grandmother and mother.

"I've loved this place since the day I walked in," said assistant manager Pat Schreiber, 55, who started out at Ann's in 1965 cooking behind the counter. "It feels like it's mine."

With its eight, red vinyl-covered counter stools, Ann's looks much the same as it did when the Hineses opened the place in semi-rural Glen Burnie in 1951. The addition of storage space is the only physical change Pinskey made to the tiny restaurant, which can hold up to 35 tightly packed customers at a time.

A 1962 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Pinskey was part-owner of Hardee's restaurants in Maryland and Delaware when he heard through the fast-food grapevine that Ann's was for sale. He had never eaten there, but after visiting and seeing the line of cars illegally parked on Ritchie Highway outside the place, he knew Ann's had staying power.

"I decided right on the spot I should buy it," said Pinskey, who steps behind the counter at Ann's every Saturday night to make the french fries.

In 1986, the developers of Marley Station Mall wanted to buy out Pinskey and tear down Ann's, but he said he wouldn't hear of it. Pinskey and mall officials worked out a land swap that allowed Marley Station to add a second entrance and also made it possible for Ann's to enlarge its parking lot from 16 to 80 spaces.

Ann's best-seller is and always has been the $2.68 foot-long topped with mustard, onions and chili; cheese is 10 cents a slice.

The dogs inspire a deep devotion.

On a recent Saturday night, Rob Sprout of Oahu, Hawaii, walked out of Ann's with a bag of 13 foot-longs - having bought a dozen and gotten one free. The 33-year-old Air Force sergeant and former Rising Sun resident was on his way to Waldorf to visit relatives, and he was bringing dinner.

Sprout planned to store any leftovers in a cooler to carry with him on the plane to Arizona.

"I just take them right out of the fridge and eat them cold," he said.

Schreiber recalled a man who insisted on food from Ann's at his retirement celebration last month. The party menu included 25 double-dogs and milkshakes.

"They had the party out in the parking lot," she said.

Service with aplomb

As much as the tasty food, the service by the crack counter staff is part of the Ann's experience. With a line of customers snaking out the door, the unflappable waitresses - affectionately called "girls" by Pinskey - display a graceful efficiency that seems almost choreographed. Working without a notepad, they can remember multiple orders, cook the food and wrap it up, doing it all at a breakneck pace and with aplomb.

"Come in, shut the doors and spread out, please," a waitress says as she directs the crowd at Ann's.

"You can give one girl five orders and she never gets them wrong," said Wayne Weber, 59, who usually makes it to Ann's once a week for a foot-long. "You go to McDonald's and tell the girl, 'I want a Coke, fries and a hamburger,' and she says, 'Huh?'"

At Ann's, the orders just keep on coming - two cheeseburgers, one with everything, the other without onion or relish; cheese- steak sub with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and onion; half a chili dog; half a cheesesteak with cheese and mayonnaise; two orders of fries and a cherry shake; two double-dogs; a steak sub and two fries.

"When we're slow is when we really mess up, because we're not concentrating," said waitress April Allison, 50, who has worked at Ann's for 25 years. "When we're busy to the door, we wipe them out with no problem."

Kevin Mason of Chincoteague, Va., on his first visit to Ann's, watched in wonder.

"I'm trying to figure out how they keep it all going," he said.

Besides updating the numbers on the sign outside the restaurant - "Ann's Dari-Creme Thanks You! Our Loyal Customers For Over 49 Wonderful Years" - Pinskey has no plans to celebrate Ann's 50th anniversary publicly. It's just another year, another 365,000 hot dogs.

"A lot of things change," he said, "but Ann's doesn't change."

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