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Gregory Papalexis, The Man Behind Sabrett's Hot Dogs, Dies At 86

NORWOOD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) - One of New York City's unsung icons has passed away.

Gregory Papalexis was 86.

You may not know the name, but you're almost certainly familiar with his work. After all, if you've ever set foot in New York City, you've likely seen, smelled and tasted one of the Sabrett hot dogs that are sold from yellow and blue canopied carts all across the city.

Papalexis was president, CEO and chairman of Englewood-based Marathon Enterprises, a supplier of hot dogs, buns, onion sauce and other products, and the owner of the Sabrett trademark.

He died Friday in Rockleigh, N.J., according to the Barrett Funeral Home in Tenafly, N.J., which is handling arrangements.

Sabrett hot dogs are sold nationwide.

Photos: Notable Deaths 2011

Marathon also supplies franks to Papaya King and Gray's Papaya restaurants, and sells more than 35 million pounds of hot dogs a year.

His son-in-law, Mark Rosen, Marathon Enterprises' vice president of sales, told The Record of Bergen County that Papalexis was "the single biggest hot dog lover in the world."

And Papalexis, who retired two years ago, practiced what he preached: He ate Sabrett hot dogs four or five days a week, relatives said. Mark Rosen said franks-and-beans casserole was part of the Papalexis family's Christmas table each year.

See also: The Best Hot Dogs In New York City

The son of a baker, Papalexis grew up next door to a hot dog factory in upper Manhattan. He earned a bachelor of science degree in industrial relations from New York University in 1948, and then entered the food business.

With a $2,500 G.I. loan, Papalexis bought his father's bakery and sold rolls to clients throughout New York City, making deliveries in a Cadillac because it had the biggest trunk he could find.

He soon began selling hot dogs as well, manufacturing a pushcart brand called House O' Weenies. He formed Marathon Enterprises in 1964 and acquired a series of competitors, including Sabrett Food Products in 1989.

His daughter, Nikki Rosen, also a company executive, said her father gave great detail to the buns his company sold, insisting they be "light, airy and fluffy," she said. His reasoning was simple: If customers fill up on the bun, they won't have room for a second hot dog.

The Sabrett company got its name in 1926 when its two co-founders wanted to call it the Sabre Meat Company, only to find that another firm was already using the name.

"So the two owners said, `We're a small company, so we'll call ourselves Sabre-ette, which soon became Sabrett," said the company's new president, Boyd Adelman.

The company's facilities include two manufacturing plants and a distribution center in the Bronx and a corporate office in Englewood, N.J.

Its customers include retail supermarkets, wholesale clubs, independent distributors, movie theaters, amusement parks, pushcart vendors, convention centers, ballparks and stadiums. In addition to hot dogs, the company also sells hot sausage, kielbasa, salami, pastrami, corned beef and garlic rings.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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