Fierce Anticipation: July 10-12

On Saturday, July 11th, “John Dunn’s Last Run,” a 30-minute film I wrote and directed that revolves around nighttime jogging, ghosts, underage sexual temptation and unwanted back hair will screen at the Johnstown Film and Wine Festival in Pennsylvania.*

Since I’m sure that many of you are planning to see the film and sip some of Appalachian Pinot Grigio, I thought I would helpfully provide you with two pre-festival dinner ideas by giving you brief descriptions of Johnstown’s must-eat destinations.



Via Bulatao
Photo Credit: Via Bulatao

Whether at a dinner party or on a first date, bringing up the topic of convenience stores is a risky proposition that will often be met with scorn and derision. However, talking about Sheetz is different. It is a convenience store like Citizen Kane is a movie, Moby-Dick a novel or the Pittsburgh Steelers a mere football team. It is the convenience store by which all other convenience stores are judged.

Founded by Bob Sheetz in 1952 — the first store was in Johnstown’s neighbor city of Altoona, Pa – and now a robust franchise with 344 locations in six states stretching all the way down to North Carolina, Sheetz has eclipsed steel and coal as single greatest export in the history of Western Pa.

At the heart of Sheetz’s success is the “MTO”. While these three letters (which stand for “made-to-order”) once solely represented the process of how the subs were made, the “MTO” has now grown to encompass the means of production for a cornucopia of 24/7 culinary delights ranging from juicy, delectable burgers, freshly tossed salads and a smoothie bar.

Sheetz not only revolutionized the type of food found in convenience stores but the way we humans order it. Upon entering the store, patrons are free from having to place their lunch, dinner or Taco Bell-coined fourth-meal orders into the often unwashed and illiterate hands of apathetic teens or unable-to-retire senior citizens and instead they are greeted by a wall of sleek, easy-to-use kiosks (which are now also found on the gas pumps) with an interface so simple, sleek and sturdy as to make the iPhone feel as clunky as a Ford Pinto.

Quite simply, while in Johnstown, there is no better way to celebrate both the centennial of the Italian Futurists and John Dunn’s Last Run than to visit Sheetz, the elBulli of convenience stores.


Coney Island

Photo Credit: Eileen Mundok
Photo Credit: Eileen Mundok

Not to be confused with the historic resort destination in New York City, Johnstown’s Coney Island restaurant — located within the skeletal remains of downtown next to a Greyhound bus station and an airport-sized steel mill– is a historic monument in of itself, albeit one dedicated to extruded meat.

It’s doors are open nearly 24 hours a day (except from 4AM-6AM), but no matter what time or in what inebriated state you arrive, a host of aged, rotund women with receding hairlines wait behind the counter to take your order.  When seen together, this collection of the nearly departed resembles a group of hymn-singing lobotomized mental patients in a 1920’s lunatic ward.

Of course, the real attractions are the world famous hot dogs and how they are put together. After you order the hot dogs, the Islandettes –as the locals affectionately call them — retrieve buns from the steamer and line them up on their non-too insubstantially sized forearms (five buns per forearm is usually the norm). Then, they seamlessly slide each hot dog into the bun and slather it, their bicep fat shaking like Jell-O in a 9.5 earthquake, with Coney Island’s patented condimentary mixture of mustard, chili and onions. Finished, they plop them on plates, ready for you to eat and enjoy. Bon Appetit!

*For those not in the know, Johnstown is a Western, Pa city recently re-famous, hitherto in this column, for its fugitive TV weatherman.