HUNTINGTON — Sodexo has ended its contract with Stewarts Original Hot Dogs, meaning come Saturday, Herd fans won’t be able to purchase a Stewarts Thunder Dog during the first football game of the season.
John Mandt Jr., owner of Stewarts Hot Dogs, said he had to walk away from 30-plus years of serving his hot dogs at Marshall because he and Sodexo could not come to a mutually beneficial agreement for continuing the relationship. The Herald-Dispatch was not able to reach Sodexo’s local manager, Cheryl King, for comment.
“We had an agreement for a long time at a certain amount per Thunder Dog sold,” Mandt said. “But when they want me to do it 50 cents cheaper and have one stand on each side, I would go in the hole.”
Mandt said Sodexo wanted to honor an old contract that sold his hot dogs at $3.50, with him making about 74 cents per hot dog sold. But he said costs are different now, and he couldn’t make that work.
“Were they giving me an opportunity at a lowball price to have a stand or two over there? Sure,” Mandt said. “But was it reasonable? No.”
Mandt started selling his hot dogs at Marshall sporting events in the 1980s, before Sodexo contracted with Marshall to provide food services to campus. The university just renewed its contract with Sodexo this year.
“We had a good run with it,” Mandt said. “Had they not wanted to change the terms of the current deal, we’d still be there.”
Mandt said in the past, he had support from the Marshall University Athletic Department, but was told this week the department has no control over what Sodexo does.
“I don’t know if they agreed, but if everyone wanted me over there, we would be there,” he said. “Do I know for sure? No. But that meeting that I went to, it was the first time Marshall has not backed me up.”
Marshall, through spokesperson Leah Payne, declined to comment further on the story other than to say they do not hold the contract with Mandt.
“The contract is between Stewarts and Sodexo, a state-selected vendor for food service on our campus,” Payne said.
Mandt also said he was not sure if a petition that circulated earlier in the year had anything to do with Sodexo’s decision, but at the start of a meeting he had with Sodexo, a new regional manager said they had “political and contractual differences.”
In April, Marshall and Sodexo received a petition with more than 750 signatures from people requesting the university and its contracted food vendor cut ties with Stewarts. That came following social media posts made by Mandt after he chose not to attend a vigil at the local mosque honoring victims of a mass shooting in New Zealand that targeted Muslims. Mandt is a member of the state House of Delegates, representing the 16th District as a Republican. The 16th District includes Marshall.
The petition asked Sodexo to “honor their own values stated on the company website: ‘It’s more important than ever for organizations to do well by doing good. Whoever they are, wherever they operate, businesses must act for the benefit of everyone in order to create true value.’ In addition, one of the company’s ‘nine commitments to a better tomorrow’ [is] drive diversity and inclusion as a catalyst for change.”
In April, Mandt told The Herald-Dispatch the Facebook post was a misunderstanding, and he was not referencing the vigil but rather House Democrats who at the time had invited The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to the Capitol following an Islamophobic sign displayed in the rotunda during the session on GOP Day.
He said he would never show hatred toward another person, and though his business is not part of the city’s Open to All campaign to promote acceptance of all people, his business has always been open to all.
On Tuesday, Mandt said he was surprised to hear the word “political.” Still, he thanked Marshall and Sodexo for including his hot dogs for 32 years.
On social media, fans are split as to whether this is good or bad news. Comments ranged from supporting Stewarts to not supporting them because they simply did not prefer them or because they disagree with Mandt’s political beliefs.
“Supported John for years, but then ‘HE’ started the ‘Hate,’ with Teachers, LGBTQ, other faiths & then started calling ‘ALL’ Democrats names,” posted David Smith. “Sad to see him go down that road ... He has no one to blame but himself! This was a ‘Sodexo’ contract, and NOT a Marshall one ... But for me it was the right call, when over 50% of the people that use Sodexo are the ones John alienated by his ‘Hate’ of others, it was a smart business move by Sodexo and a bad business move by John ...”
“I love how everyone ASSUMES the contract was ended because of the statements that were made,” posted Kristin Weekley Hatfield. “I’m sure more went in to it than just his bigoted comments. Usually when contracts end it’s because of money.”
“Their loss,” wrote Zac Whitt. “Huntington and surrounding areas will still support Stewarts. Good food, good principles, paid for by honest hardworking people.”
“Hopefully not a long term decision ... such a good tradition for our town,” posted Brent Geer.
Thunder Dogs will now be sold at both Stewarts locations in Huntington and Kenova. On Saturdays during home football games, Thunder Dogs will be available at $12.99 for a dozen. He will also offer six original dogs for $6. Hot dogs can be ordered in advance for tailgates by calling 304-529-3647.