Lifelong Merrick resident opens gourmet hot dog business


Jim Hamilton, a 60-year-old lifelone resident of Merrick, achieved a dream of his when he opened Balabalo's Hot Dogs on March 6. 

In the backyard of what once was Joe Romeo’s Barbershop on Jerusalem Avenue in Merrick, Romeo would sit and ideate his future endeavors with his customer and friend, Jim Hamilton. On more than one occasion, Hamilton, a 60-year-old lifelong resident of Merrick, would dream up a plan to cook and sell sausages and peppers alongside the barbershop. His goal was to recreate the traditional hot dog trucks he used to see around Manhattan. Four years ago, Romeo died and his Barbershop closed. Hamilton kicked his dream into gear and, on March 6, opened the doors to his friend’s building once again, but this time it was called Balabalo’s Hot Dogs. 

Hamilton reached out to Merrick native Bobby Harley, a friend of his whom he knew always wanted to be a chef. Harley said that Balabalo’s is dedicated to providing “gourmet” hot dogs. “They’re the kind that crunch when you bite into them,” he added. 

Hamilton said that he selected businesses from which to order his food based on their quality and commitment to fresh ingredients. Balabalo’s meats come from four locations based in New York, including Artisan Meats, a sausage-making company the founder of which, Josef Brunner, grew up and learned his trade in Austria. Balabalo’s buns come from Riesterer’s Bakery in West Hempstead and their relish, mango salsa, coleslaw and macaroni and cheese are homemade by restaurant staff.

Hamilton plans on improving the exterior of the restaurant by constructing a façade that resembles the front of a hot dog truck. He has been repairing and refurnishing kitchens and bathroom for the past 25 years under Hamilton’s Home Improvements, which he still operates alongside Balabalo’s.

The Calhoun High School alumnus attended New York City College of Technology where he studied accounting. He went on to work at several reinsurance companies before “they all got gobbled up,” he said. In other words, they were bought out by larger companies, which resulted in his lay-off each time. “You know, you work so hard doing what you’re doing…” He added, but didn’t finish his sentence, perhaps because he didn’t think it was necessary.