Diana Bailey took her first bite of a hot dog 2when she was barely old enough to read and write.
Her mama had saved some money from her housekeeping job and treated her children to a meal at the Nu-Way.
Diana held the steamed bun in her hand and remembers how all those flavors jumped around in her mouth.
It was about the best thing she had ever tasted.
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She never could have dreamed she would end up cooking more of those famous wieners -- or "weiners," if you believe the famously misspelled sign -- than just about anyone in the restaurant's storied history.
Nu-Way will celebrate its 100th birthday Saturday. A Greek immigrant named James Mallis -- known in these parts as "The Dogfather" -- opened a hot dog stand on Cotton Avenue on Feb. 27, 1916. To one side was Merkel's Bakery. On the other was Hodges & Geeslin Produce.
A century later, Nu-Way remains the city's most iconic eating establishment and the second-oldest hot dog franchise in America. The granddaddy of them all, Nathan's on Coney Island, is older -- but only by one month.
Diana devoted 40 years of her life -- that's about 127 in hot dog years -- to the company. She retired seven weeks ago. Well, technically she "retired," but co-owners Spyros Dermatas and Jim Cacavias chuckled and said they would only consider it temporary.
They told her to rest up and get out the boomerang. They want her back to help out when Nu-Way opens its ninth location in Mercer Village in early April.
It will be her fifth Nu-Way address. She has worked at Napier Square, Baconsfield, Northside and Zebulon -- and trained more managers than any soul who ever wore a red apron.
"Her loyalty," Spyros said, "has been unsurpassed."
Diana grew up one of eight children. She was born with vision problems that became worse as she got older.
She had her first job at age 15, doing the heavy lifting for the hotel maids at the Pinebrook Inn on Forsyth Road. She was a member of the last graduating class at old Ballard-Hudson High School in 1969, and she took courses at Macon Technical College with aspirations of becoming a secretary.
Diana worked part-time at the Nu-Way at Napier Square for another of the restaurant's longtime employees, the late Johnny Nicholas. She left that job after she was hired in material management at the Medical Center of Central Georgia. Soon, Nicholas' daughter, Beverly, was begging her to help with the breakfast shift after Nu-Way opened a new restaurant on Northside Drive.
She held down both jobs for five years, working from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. making scratch biscuits by the dawn's early light, and taking on her hospital duties from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
In those days, the location was remote and undeveloped after the old V.C. & L. Road was paved and renamed Northside Drive.
"There wasn't much out there," Diana said. "We would watch the deer play in the parking lot."
But folks would scale mountains and ford rivers to get their Nu-Way fix. Diana spent the majority of her career in that spot, becoming the face of the franchise at the corner of Forest Hill. She eventually made the switch to manage the Nu-Way at the Plantation Centre Food Court on Zebulon Road, which opened in May 2000.
Although she never married or had children of her own, she considered her employees her family, and she took care of them as she did her own sisters, brothers, aunts and cousins. One of her most special memories was when her mother, Mary Jackson, came to work for her at Northside.
"She didn't have a job title, and I never gave her one," Diana said. "I just let her do whatever she wanted to do."
Diana had to make adjustments as her vision declined. It used to be that she could remember the orders in her head. But when the restaurant chain went to computer monitors and the orders appeared on a screen, the fonts had to be enlarged so she could read them.
Still, he kept right on cooking those dogs on flat-iron grills and rolling out megaburgers, chili-cheese fries and chocolate malts as a labor of love.
She poured enough "famous flaky ice" to fill an ocean.
And speaking of oceans, Jim and Spyros sent her on her first Caribbean cruise five years ago. The vacation was the sincerest form of bribery to keep her on board at Nu-Way after she began making overtures about retiring. (It worked.)
Diana is no gambler. However, out on the open sea she allowed herself to play the slot machines and won $220. Did she keep the money?
Yes, and no. She tucked it away, came home and shared it with her co-workers.
Her final day, in a manner of speaking, was New Year's Eve. She saved her grand celebration for two weeks ago, when she went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
After Fat Tuesday, she did not give up chili dogs for Lent.
No way on the no Nu-Way.
"I never get tired of them," she said, laughing. "Sometimes, you just have to have one."
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism and creative writing at Stratford Academy in Macon. He can be reached at email@example.com.