It was a dilly

Dilly-Wagon drive-ins, which looked like oversize prairie schooners, were certainly eye-catching enough in the 1960s but their main attraction was the “It’s a Dilly” sauce served on burgers and hot dogs. People still remember it longingly. I wish somebody would describe it. Was it a mayonnaise-based sauce with dill in it like that used with fish? What made it hot?

The sauce was created by Charles Weinstein who experimented with it in his Potsdam NY kitchen after an illness prevented him from continuing with his former business, selling apparel. The sauce, which was guaranteed to “perk up … just about any meat or meat dish,” was also sold in food stores, with three degrees of hotness, Pleasing, Extra, and Triple “for those who like a sauce that sizzles.”

In February of 1961 Charles applied for a patent for the design of his drive-in structure [see illustrations]. In the early 1960s local and regional drive-ins were still popular, not yet squeezed out by national fast-food franchises. Why he chose a Conestoga wagon style is unknown, but as was true of all roadside businesses, being able to catch the eye of passing motorists was critical.

Later in 1961 an advertisement appeared in the South Burlington High School yearbook for a Dilly-Wagon drive-in at 1907 Williston Road. That same year Charles ran an ad in the Oneonta NY paper saying that the drive-ins cost only $12,750, could be opened in three short weeks, and were ideal for a college town. By August there were Dilly Wagons not only in Burlington but in Rutland VT and in Potsdam NY, and he was hoping to place more in the Lake George area.

Strangely, by summer 1962 the price of a Dilly Wagon had inexplicably jumped up to $20,000, according to a franchise advertisement that appeared in a Pennsylvania newspaper.

Exactly how many Dilly-Wagons were franchised, and where, is unknown. I’ve been able to locate one in New Hartford NY and one as far away as Sheboygan WI. The Wisconsin Dilly-Wagon, purchased in 1963, was run in conjunction with a Dairy Queen stand. There was also a Dilly Bar operated by Charles Weinstein and a partner on Curry Road in Schenectady NY (pictured, 1966). Curiously, this operation, which was not in the form of a covered wagon, specialized not just in burgers and hot dogs but also Chinese egg rolls, Southern fried chicken, and “dilly root beer,” whatever that might be.

© Jan Whitaker, 2011


Filed under drive-ins, food

110 responses to “It was a dilly

  1. Jennifer

    Anyone know the ingredients to the dilly sauce?

    • Jon H Hanson

      Jon Hanson
      June 3, 2017 at 12:08 am
      As i said in my earlier post, I ate at the Dilly Wagon on the Williston Rd in Burlington VT. Loved the sauce! My mom wouldn’t let us younger ones have the #3 sauce, so we had to settled for the #2 sauce…hahaha!

      So with what Diane Lalonde mentioned, what I remember as a hot red relish type sauce, and that it is named “DILLY” sauce…I tried this: Tostidos restaurant style salsa, green dill relish, green sweet relish, Cento cherry pepper hoagie sauce, and a little chopped jalapeño pepper. It’s on the right path. The salsa gives it the tomato, garlic and onion flavors.

      I love this post. I am always hoping someone will come up with the actual recipe, but in the mean time I would be interested in any efforts to duplicate the taste!

    • Kent Fraser

      I don’t. My dad made the sauce. It was good and it drew people in. He leased the Dilly Wagon on Williston Road in South Burlington, VT in the Summer of 1971. Our family, those old enough, worked 6 days a week. I was 13, and at the end of the Summer, by totaling the supply orders, figured out that I’d cooked 20,000 hot dogs. It was a good bonding and life experience

  2. Jerry L. Stacy

    I grew up in Potsdam NY and also attended CCT (now known as Clarkson University). It was a nighttime hang-out for young people and the hamburger sauce was by far the best I have ever had on a burger. In trying to find the recipe for the sauce, I recall someone who went by the name Crow and he may have been the manager. For those that live in the Potsdam area, don’t confuse the name with Crow Smith who owned a sporting goods store in Massena NY. They are different people. To the best of my knowledge, Crow was a SUNY Potsdam student circa 1970. I believe he was a baseball player at SUNY Potsdam. I don’t know his last name, but if we could identify him, we might be able to figure out the recipe. From time to time I believe it was made at the restaurant. It was cooked as well. There definitely was not mayonnaise in it. I remember it was a tomato based sauce with finely chopped tomatoes, onions, spices and other ingredients. I have tried many different hamburger sauces in search of dilly-sauce, but nothing comes close. I would love to find that sauce again. Many fond memories of the Dilly Wagon. It was a sad day when it was torn down. It succumbed to the fast food franchises that have proliferated in the ensuing years. No franchise has ever bested dilly sauce.

  3. James Bullard

    I remember going to the Dilly Wagon in Potsdam when I was in HS. My memory of the sauce is that it was very much like salsa, perhaps a bit thicker, but pretty much the same ingredients. They sold jars of it in the local supermarket back then too. The dining room on the side of the ‘wagon’ had a low ceiling and they encouraged customers to sign their name on the ceiling.

    • Jon Hanson

      Yes, I remember it as very much like a salsa with lots of texture from finely chopped items…not like a completely smooth or a heavy chunky salsa. In addition to the normal salsa ingredients like tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic, it had a true relish taste so it must have had sweet or dill pickle relish in it.
      So I tried Tostidos restaurant style salsa, green dill relish, green sweet relish, and as much chopped cherry and jalapeno peppers as you might like for heat. It’s on the right path. The salsa gives it the tomato, garlic and onion flavors.
      I would love to know anyone else that has a suggestion for a copycat recipe???

  4. Pingback: Location, Location, Location – The Fathomless Shadows

  5. Mike Kemsley

    I remember going to the ones in S. Burlington on Williston Rd near the current true value Hardware store location and the one in Pittsford. We would carry on until our parents gave in and stopped for burgers. As I recall their #3 sauce was referred to as Wow! sauce. Wish it was still around.

  6. mandolare

    Is there a way to add photos to the comments?

  7. I own The Dilly Wagon out in Georgia Vermont Route 7 at the Red Barn. I do have a sauce that is very very good in which people travel to come eat. I purchased the business from a lady who ran it for 12 years. People were really begging her to sell the recipe. It went with the purchase of the business! I’m of course not sure if it is the sauce. But it is very very good. Come try it out and if anyone has the recipe I’d be glad to match it up or use it in my Dilly Wagon! Thank you! God Bless. And I am not claiming I have the recipe. Just simply saying Maybe I do. 🙂

    • Anonymous

      What is the address of your restaurant? I would be interested in going there!

    • Isis Aquarian

      finally…..this has been going on for forever and now we might have a conclusion …im happy xo thank you for connecting and thank you restauranting through history for keeping up with this …look forward to you visit to taste sauce 🙂

      • I wish I could say it was the sauce. But really without proof there is no way knowing! However …The sauce we do have is very, very good and people travel to eat it!

    • beth

      I was watching an episode of Bonanza and saw a chuck wagon, in my minds eye I recalled a chuck wagon style hamburger place I knew as a child in the 60s. I started researching and came upon this site, The DILLY WAGON, of course! The one I remembered was on Williston road in So Burlington, then to find out that there is one in Georgia was very exciting and hope to visit this summer.

      • Jane

        My Mom was a lady ahead of her time. Mrs. B. (As she was affectionately referred by her employees) found the place and acquired the franchise for the Williston road Dilly Wagon from Mr.E. Weinstein of the Potsdam,NY. Mrs B had 9 children plus a husband and a month after the Dilly Wagon opened she had number 10, a boy who made the numbers even. All told 5 boys and 5 girls, then went back to work managing the Dilly Wagon as the owner. Yes some of us worked there also I started work at the age of 11.

      • Charlene peters

        And … still no one has it can post what the sauce was made of??? Ok it will go down as a divine mystery

    • Charlene peters

      Can you give us the recipe or basically what it is
      And save our sanity😂😂😂this has been going on for years!!

  8. Jim Reynolds

    Well, I have done a lot of searching on the US Patent and Trademark Office website. I have seen scans of 3 original trademark documents.

    1. “It’s-A-Dilly” Barbecue Sauce. (reg. 1958)

    2. “Dilly-Salt” All purpose seasoning. (reg. 1958)

    3. “Dilly” Tartar sauce, relish for frankfurter sandwiches, dressing for salads, and a meatless food sauce. (filed 1961, reg. 1963)

    Sadly, the ingredients are not listed, as it was the NAME that was trademarked in each case, not the sauces/seasoning themselves.

  9. Jim Reynolds

    I found some pictures of the Potsdam Dilly Wagon on the Potsdam Public Museum and Archives Facebook page:

    The post card that shows up on Google searches that is listed as the Potsdam Dilly Wagon must be the one in Pittsford, VT.

  10. Robert fitzgerald

    Ellott Weinstein tried to make a comeback with the sauce, but fell upon hard times. That was someplace in Ohio. I would like to hear from him, or his wife Dena.

  11. I graduated from PCS in 1961 and escaped from St. Lawrence County forever in 1962, but I remember my short experience with the number 3 Dilly Dog and the wagon. No salsa here in Texas competes with the Dilly Sauce in my memory. Too bad the recipe seems to be lost forever. Anybody know how to search the U.S. Patent Office?

  12. Sabonet

    The article is wrong about the sauce. In Potsdam at the initial restaurant the sauce was tomato based and somewhat like Heinz Hamburger relish and came in 3 levels of Hot. Mild, hot and hotter. It was laddled onto the “Hamburg” while it was grilling by Mr Weinstein and his sons. The same sauces were offered in The Wagon in Potsdam and the site in Burlington. I never saw it until I visited The Hardrock on Piccadilly Road in London In 1972. If I remember their hamburger relish at that time was similar if not identical to the It’s a Dilly from Potsdam and imported to the U.K. From Canada. Go figure!

    Perhaps someone from Canada saw it and knocked it off up there and later it become Heintz relish🇺🇸🍔🇨🇦! This comment came about because I was checking to see if the Weinsteins were perhaps relatives of the producer Harvey Weinstein?

    Comment from Northern California

  13. Just found my father’s vacation journal from July-August 1961 in which he wrote: “Went out to Pittsford and stopped at a car hop called the Dilly wagon for 1/4 pound hamburgers.” What a flood of memories!

  14. As i said in my earlier post, I ate at the Dilly Wagon on the Williston Rd in Burlington VT. Loved the sauce! My mom wouldn’t let us younger ones have the #3 sauce, so we had to settled for the #2 sauce…hahaha!

    So with what Diane Lalonde mentioned, what I remember as a hot red relish type sauce, and that it is named “DILLY” sauce…I tried this: Tostidos restaurant style salsa, green dill relish, green sweet relish, Cento cherry pepper hoagie sauce, and a little chopped jalapeño pepper. It’s on the right path. The salsa gives it the tomato, garlic and onion flavors.

    I love this post. I am always hoping someone will come up with the actual recipe, but in the mean time I would be interested in any efforts to duplicate the taste!

  15. Anonymous

    A Dilly Wagon was in Potsdam NY on market St.
    It was a red relish with hot pepper and mustard. It was cooked. If you can find Heinz red burger relish add a little mustard and red pepper. Cook it for about 10 minutes stirring often.

    • isis aquarian

      Wow…even though i never experienced the dilly wagon or sauce for myself…the amount of attention this has received to recreate however, has me hooked. love the latest post and hope someone tries to make it and see what they think so we all can share in it :)) xo let us know

  16. david c willard

    The dilly wagon in Williston also made great black raspberry shakes, a must if you dared to order #3 sauce.

  17. Homer Mitchell

    It was tomato-based, like a hamburger relish, but much better and a different consistency,

  18. Robert Fitzgerald

    I have lost track of a son Elliot who was trying to bring the sauce back. Sadly, it failed. I last saw Elliot somewhere in Ohio.

    • Anonymous

      So what is Elliot’s last name and some info..and the internet might help find him :)) this has now become a ninja project :)) we shall not give up xo
      isis aquarian

      • Jane Bissonette

        Wienstine I think that is how it’s spelled.. I know Elliot Sr. ‘s name was that.

    • isis aquarian

      This has now become a ninja project..we cannot give up. What is Elliot’s last name and some info and the internet might help find him :)) isis aquarian

    • Jane Bissonette Stevens

      The last name is Weinstein. My mom bought the franchise for this area. Her name was Diane Bissonette. I logged how many hours a week she worked before going home to ten kids and one husband. 105 hours. Granted us kids helped around the house and worked at the “Wagon”.

      • Joyce Larivee

        Hi Jane, My mother worked for your mother at the Dilly Wagon in the early 60s and I was one of her car hops. I fondly remember working along side you and your brothers. Such a long time ago but lots of memories.

  19. Peter Hughes '61

    I can still taste that sauce upon my tongue. Mercy mercy. Oh for just one more. My kingdom for a dillyburger.

  20. Anonymous

    I was a car hop at the Potsdam Dilly wagon when it first opened. The sauce was delicious. Tomato based–no mayo.

  21. Anonymous

    My parents Robert and Elizabeth Degenhardt owned the Dilly Wagon just north of Rutland, VT. Many happy memory of that place! Nice to read these posts!,

    • I’m sure everyone who reads your comment is wondering if you have the recipe for Dilly Sauce.

      • Anonymous

        So sorry, I do not have the recipe. I remember that my parents had bottles and bottles of it though. It was not made on site. I have so many wonderful memorries of the Dilly Wagon. It was actually located north of Rutland in Pittsford, VT.

      • Hi folks, i am looking for a dilly wagon to purchase.. we own the exact property on williston rd in so. burlington vt. where the dilly wagon once sat. we certinly dont want to go into the burger and dog buisness. just want one for a landmark. any help in locating one would be appreciated. many thanks, Darrell Tucker, 802-3459-5020 or skariwate14@g

      • Anonymous

        There are too many numbers in your phone number ?
        And does this mean you have the dilly sauce recipe :))

      • Anonymous


    • Anonymous

      Wait, someone posted that their parents own a dilly truck…but do they have the recipe for the sauce?…Jan, can you follow up on this one? xo isis

    • Anonymous

      What? Your parents owned a dilly wagon…do you have that recipe for the sauce everyone is asking about? thanks xo

    • Is there any chance that you have the recipe for the sauce?

  22. Bridget

    I’m excited to finally be able to find someplace on the internet regarding the subject of the Dilly-Wagon! About 15 years ago, in Vermont, I bought a huge, wood, “Dilly-Wagon” sign in the shape of a covered wagon. It’s says “Dilly-Wagon” across the top and underneath it says “Mighty Good Eats”. And the 1961 copyright info. below in small letters.
    I fell in love with the sign and have always wanted more info. on the business, so I am happy to know there are so many folks out there that experienced it!

    • My parents had at least two large wood signs that I know made their way to Collectible Stores for sale. One sign was actually cut in half and still sold in a NY store. When I heard it was for sale I went to buy it but it was already sold. Enjoy!

      • Gordon

        Can’t find your name but would like permission to use a bit of your material. I’ve been looking for the recipe for Dilly ‘sauce. I write a weekly column for our weekly paper (I’m the retired editor) and a former customer of the Dilly wagon. Doing a piece this week on eating out and would like to include info about your search for dilly sauce recipe. I live in Lowville, NY, 80 miles south of Clarkson University in Potsdam where I was a student in 1958-59. I was a frequent dilly burger eater. I would give most anything for the recipe . . . or one more taste. Keep on searching. Gordon Allen

    • I own The Dilly Wagon. Any chance we could purchase the sign to use it? 🙂 If not I understand. But I want to bring the old theme back! 802-922-2456. Feel free to call me! Thank you!

      • mandolare

        There were actually two signs from my parent’s Pittsford (north of Rutland) Dilly Wagon for sale around that time. One was complete and one had been sawed and used for another purpose. Both were for sale and actually sold before I found them. Likely the one you have??? One also made it to Whitehall NY before being sold.

      • Bridget Fulk

        I’m sorry, but I couldn’t possibly sell it. At present, we are building a custom home with my dream kitchen. Before construction even began, I picked out the spot where it will live. I love it so much it has hung in every kitchen I’ve had since finding it some 20 years ago. (10 kitchens to be exact since my husband was in the military) The sign has indeed logged a lot of miles and now lives in northwest Montana on the top of a mountain.

        I found the sign along side the road on a trip from Saratoga Springs, NY to Stowe, VT. (so it must have been along Hwy.4?) It has been “cut in half” but was put together when I found it. It does not take away from its beauty.

        Congratulations on your new endeavor. We will pay a visit to your Dilly Wagon the next time we are in the area.

        Bridget 🙂

      • mandolare

        Bridget Fulk

        The sign that was cut in half that you own was one of my parents from the Pittsford, VT Dilly Wagon. My mother cut the sign to use it as sheep pens when she raised sheep at her house across from the Dilly Wagon on Route 7 in Pittford, VT. I have pictures of the sheep with the sign pieces as part of their pens. So wish we could up load pictures! Nice to knw that the sign has found a good home. My husband went to the Whitehall, NY shop to buy one of the signs but it had been sold days before.

  23. Homer Mitchell

    I think it would be great if the Potsdam Chamber of Commerce would offer a “It’s a Dilly Recipe Contest” at their next Summer Festival (too late for 2014). Entrants would offer their recipe concoctions at a cooperating hot dog/hamburger concession with judging by a panel of local chefs and a popular vote. The winner’s recipe could be marketed with assistance from the Chamber, the Entrepreneur program students and staff at Clarkson and/or SUNY Potsdam.

  24. Jon Hanson

    It is great to hear everyone talk about the Dilly Wagon. My mom used to stop at the Dilly Wagon on the Williston road in Burlington with 6 or 8 of us kids in the station wagon. It was sometime in 1959 or 1960. I was about 10 yrs old. The Dilly sauce was outstanding…#1, #2 or #3 sauce with #3 the hottest and the best, of course. Diane Lalonde is right, it was not a mayonnaise sauce…it was a tomato based relish with I think chopped onions, pickles and peppers. It was very tangy and had a distinct flavor that I have never had elsewhere…definitely unique and really good. As kids, we loved the big covered wagon.

  25. It appears that the good folks at the Potsdam Public Museum also have an interest in tracking down the recipe for the It’s-A-Dilly sauce. See their notice at potsdampublic and the accompanying link to the North Country Now web newspaper.

  26. Some have commented that they know people and or their kids who worked and made the dilly sauce…can you guys contact them and see what was in it?

  27. Gordon Allen

    I also was a student a CCT and lived in the dorms across from the Dilly Wagon. I’ve been waiting 70 years for this discussion. We have got to find that recipe or one that comes close. I’ve never been able to figure out why no one capitalized on this product. Nothing has ever tasted as good. I just know it would sell today.

    • I have searched newspapers and found nothing. I doubt it was ever published. I think that finding the recipe would involve locating someone who worked at one of the Dilly Wagons.

  28. Here’s a recipe suggestion sent by Isis Aquarian:
    I remember tracking down this sauce for french fries and hamburgers. It might be it or at least close but whatever it is darn good.
    One part ketchup, two parts mayonnaise. Spike with any of the below to your taste: salt, garlic, relish, pickle juice — some have added horseradish and other spices. xo isis

    • You could put some dill, and hot sauce and or some crushed tomatoes? According to what I have read that people remember being in it, hopefully someone will contact the people they know that made sauce who worked there and give us a reply.

  29. BarbaraKupka

    Pretty sure we ate this kind of sauce on a burger in Youngstown, NY — don’t remember the name of the restaurant, it was about 10 yrs ago.

  30. Anonymous

    We’ve found a sauce here in Rochester, Ny. that is very similar to “It’s a Dilly” sauce from Potsdam Ny. The sauce is sold in our local grocery store called Wegmans. Its called Piccadilli sauce and it has a little bit of a kick. We love it on Hamburgs or Hotdogs. It is probably as close as we’re going to get to Dilly Sauce. Many people claim to have the recipe but I’ve never seen one posted.

  31. I was born in the town of Potsdam in 1935; and can not remember seeing this ” It’s -A-Dilly Wagon ” during the years I resided there. The name sounds familiar to me, tho. Now live in Sherman, Tx.
    Bernie Gonyea

  32. Dave Atkinson

    I lived in the CCT Dorm [59-61] across Rt 11, room nearest the Dilly Wagon, for 2 school years. What temptation! I remember a few times sitting at a table with burgers at 11:45 PM Friday nights waiting for the clock to hit midnight so my Catholic friends would not eat meat on Friday. This could be another Dinosaur BBQ chain today.

  33. I remember The Dilly Wagon across from Clarkson back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Mary Fiacco made up the sauce and her kids worked there. It was a covered wagon.

    • Homer Mitchell, an old Ogdensburger.

      If Mary created that recipe, no wonder it was good. I remember in 1991 going to Fiacco’s. Business had slowed down by then, and the bar crowd had disappeared, but there was Mary in the kitchen stirring her fabulous spaghetti sauce and cooking pasta. She could hardly walk by then and had to hold onto counters and tables as she moved about. But there she was, every night.

  34. Anonymous

    I remember the Dilly Wagon in Potsdam. Mary Fiacco made up the sauce and her kids ran the wagon, in the 60’s.

  35. Bonnie Fenner

    I am 68 yrs. old now and I lived in Parishville. Some of my fondest memories are of driving from Parishville to Potsdam for a mouth watering Dilly Burger. It was a tomato based sauce and agree with Diane Lalonde. It was like a relish but had 3 degrees of hotness. It was awesome. I’d go even further today to find one. I can taste it.

  36. nlpnt

    One of the wagons still stood along US 7 somewhere between Middlebury and late as the ’90s. It was last used as the office for a mobile home dealership.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, that is the one my parents owned. Robert and Elizabeth Degenhardt, just north of Rutland in Pittsford, VT. For awhile it had been built over. Then when the outer building was torn down it stood as the old wagon until the then owner got clearance from the Historical Society to tear it down. A sad day for many.

  37. Homer Mitchell

    I worked the summer of 1957 at Frank Ruggieri’s custard stand at the turn-off to the Pythian beach just outside Ogdensburg. We served It’s a Dilly sauce on burgers and dogs and sold bottles of it. I’ll never forget the taste. Sure would like to find the recipe.

  38. Anonymous

    Went to St. Lawrence(62-67), in Canton, about 12 miles west of Potsdam. The favorite place to eat with-out-question was the Dilly Wagon. My beer consuming acquaintances and I would make it the last stop after an evening on the town. Eating in a car, normally we would commence with a couple of the ‘medium’ sauced jobs that were rip-snorters.

    Then, feeling braver, we would take dares on who could handle how many of the ‘big dudes.’ We loved’em that night, but the next day was pure hell.

    Like others have said here, I’d pay good money for the recipe. Boy, were they good.

  39. I still remember the Dilly Wagon in Potsdam, NY. It was right across the road from the dorms of Clarkson College (now University) which I attended from 1962-66. The dilly sauce came in 3 flavors – mild, medium and HOT. I’ve been missing their incredible taste for the last 50 years.

  40. Elizabeth

    Me too…if anyone has one to share please do so.

    • Diane Lalonde

      It was not a mayo based sauce. If memory serves, I think it was tomato based, but not a salsa. I’d pay for the recipe.

  41. Diane Lalonde

    It was a tomato, onion, pepper based relish, not sweet, but like the dice in a pepper relish. I sure miss it. I was 17 when I used to frequent the Dilly Wagon, 63 now.

  42. Christine Terenzini Kelley

    I sure do miss “The Dilly Wagon” just north of Rutland, Vermont!!!~The “Dilly Sauce” was awesome and no one could ever copy it~~Thanks for finding this “Blast From My Past” ~Tom Cook~it was a “Dilly”!!!~

  43. Jim Reynolds

    I grew up in Williston about a mile from the Dilly Wagon in South Burlington, Vermont. My mother worked there as a car-hop one summer in the late 60’s. The wagon has been gone for at least 40 years. I would love to see a picture of it.

  44. I see a great opportunity for yet another food truck — and I’d sure like to try a triple hot version of the sauce.

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