Custard Stand committed to home—and the owners have made it work.
Many of us know the story of how Angie and Dee Cowger started the Custard Stand in Webster Springs in 1991 as a take-out dairy bar. It’s told often that the hot dog chili they’ve turned into a regional favorite—at their restaurant chain and in grocery stores across the Eastern U.S.—follows a recipe created by her grandfather a century ago for his own Webster Springs restaurant, closed many decades ago.
What you haven’t heard is that they didn’t originally know about her grandfather’s recipe. Custard Stand chili was based on the chili at a dairy bar that operated in Webster Springs from the 1960s to the 1980s. When the Cowgers decided in 2003 to produce the chili for retail sale, they approached the family from that earlier restaurant to make sure everyone was okay with it. The family told her, “Didn’t you know? That’s your Grandpa Max’s recipe!”
The Cowgers encourage customers to make Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili and Custard Stand Chili Soup their own—or nd recipes on their website: custardstand.com
How They Did It
As a teacher and a truck driver, the Cowgers felt they didn’t know enough to run a dine-in restaurant. They opened in 1991 with a walk-up window on the model of a previously successful dairy bar. Over time they added benches, then picnic tables, then a pavilion— only moving to their dine-in location in 2014.
Friends would ask to buy chili, and finally one said, “Why don’t you just put a price on that stuff and sell it?” Going from an open-air restaurant to retail was the biggest risk they’ve taken, says Angie Cowger. They sold a $50,000 coal truck and used that and credit cards to start the manufacturing facility.
People advised them to move closer to the highway when they first decided to expand production, but “we wanted to work and employ people in our hometown, not go to Summersville or Flatwoods,” Cowger says. They built warehouses in Webster Springs in 2006 and 2012 and now employ 9 at the manufacturing facility.