Steve Webb, whose beloved local chain of Snoopy’s Hot Dog restaurants grew out of a walk-up stand he built in a converted gas station, died Thursday in Wilmington. He was 81.
His death was announced in a statement on the Snoopy’s Facebook page. According to the statement, Webb died at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, where he suffered complications after heart surgery.
Webb, who was a Raleigh native, opened the first Snoopy’s in 1978, just north of downtown on the corner of Wake Forest Road and Whitaker Mill Road, where an old gas station still stood.
He turned the gas station into what the Snoopy’s website described as “an eastern North Carolina grill.” According to the Facebook post that announced his death, Webb sought to serve hot dogs “the way they were served in little places throughout eastern” North Carolina.
That meant that Snoopy’s hot dogs came standard with toppings of mustard, onion and chili, served on a steamed bun. Webb’s wife, Sarah, left her job as a teacher not long after he opened the first Snoopy’s and joined the business, according to the Snoopy’s website.
A Facebook message to Snoopy’s was not returned on Sunday. Efforts to reach Larry and Casey Cerilli, who became Webb’s business partners, were not successful.
The original Snoopy’s eventually grew into a local chain with four locations in Raleigh and one in Garner. The walk-up concept remained, inviting customers to approach a window to place their orders. But later restaurants also included sit-down seating and, at the Garner location, a drive-thru.
The menu came to include homemade chicken salad and standard fast-food fare like burgers and fries. Since the first Snoopy’s opened in the late 1970s, late-night fast-food dining has become common in Raleigh. Snoopy’s was among the first in the area, though, to offer late-night refuge for the bleary-eyed and hungry who might have craved a hot dog after a late shift at work — or the bar.
During the 1980s, Webb’s restaurant introduced a mascot, a Mr. Peanut-like figure of a hot dog in a bun wearing a tuxedo and top hat, leaning against a cane. Mr. Snoopy, according to the Snoopy’s website, helped promote the restaurant’s late-night hours: “Every dog has its day, and its nights,” the slogan went.
“Steve was a dynamic and caring individual who thought outside the box,” the statement on Facebook read. “He challenged others and himself to be informed and involved in the issues of our community and to be active citizens.
“He used the (marquee) sign at the Wake Forest Rd. Snoopy’s to not only promote the menu but to express his ideas and opinions.”
Webb “greatly appreciated the loyalty” of Snoopy’s customers, read the statement on the Snoopy’s Facebook page.
“Nothing delighted him more than to go somewhere and hear someone say, ‘I just love Snoopy’s.’”