In July of 1992 the Charleston Daily Mail published this article by Becky Fleming. Hopefully they won't mind me reprinting it here as a public service.
STATE DIVIDED BY INVISIBLE SLAW LINE
TRAVEL north through West Virginia, and you cross a line invisible to the eye but vital to the stomach. South of that line you can walk into any local grill and get a hot dog or barbecue nicely sweetened with a spoonful of cole slaw. North of that line _ the Slaw Line, we'll call it _ they look at you in wonder when you place your order.
Cole slaw on a hot dog? That's a definite food faux pas north of the Slaw Line.
"We put it on, but it's usually for people from Charleston,' said Pete Mamakos, manager of Louis' Hot Dogs in downtown Wheeling. "Nobody up here likes it, maybe one in 1,000.
"Chili, onions and mustard _ that's "everything' to us,' he said.
But "everything' in Southern West Virginia almost always includes cole slaw. Hot dogs and barbecues have been topped that way for decades, slaw eaters say.
At The Grill in Charleston, almost every hot dog and barbecue ordered comes with cole slaw.
Dr. Charles Lowman, a Grill customer, always gets his hot dogs with cole slaw. He thought everyone ate them that way.
"It makes it taste better,' he said. "It adds flavor. I thought that was the only way to do it.'
For many West Virginians, it is the only way to do it: cole slaw plopped on hot dogs, barbecues and anything else that needs a little extra flavor.
At Gales Restaurant and Supperclub in Richwood (several counties south of the Slaw Line) customers put cole slaw on the pizza, as well as the hot dogs and barbecue, said owner Mary Fraley.
"Most customers get the cole slaw on the side and put it on when they eat it,' she said. "It's really good.'
Fraley said some customers like it so much that they will come to her for cole slaw after buying their pizza at the town's Pizza Hut. And some in Richwood don't limit themselves to pizza, Fraley said "Once in a while they'll get it on a hamburger but not too often,' she said.
The Slaw Line may run as far south as North Carolina. But going north, it stops midway in West Virginia just north of Wood, Wirt, Calhoun, Gilmer, Lewis, Upshur, and Randolph counties. That's not to say no one in Clarksburg can get cole slaw on a barbecue, but it's not as easy as in Charleston. And the line may
move north in time.
While Tucker County is officially north of the Slaw Line, cole slaw lovers can get it on their hot dogs at the Davis Inn. Ladd Jasper, owner of the Davis Inn, said he's trying to convert his customers to cole-slaw-as-condiment eaters. Although most in Tucker County don't like slaw on top of sandwiches yet, he serves them that way on request. He said most people like it once they try it.
"I'd say 60 percent of the people who try cole slaw on their hot dogs will come back and ask for another one with slaw,' he said.
No one is quite sure when the tradition of using cole slaw as a topping started or why it never caught on up north. Some say it's simply that residents of the northern counties are more like their neighbors in other states who don't eat cole slaw on top of sandwiches.
John Sheets, vice president of Gunnoe Farms, which sells cole slaw throughout West Virginia, said the company's biggest markets are Kanawha Valley, Princeton, Logan and Bluefield. He said southern West Virginia residents buy far more cole slaw than those in the north.
"Northern West Virginia people are considered northerners, and they just don't eat cole slaw on their hot dogs,' he said. "For as long as I can remember, it's been like that.'
Andi Lester, director of food services and catering for University of Charleston, said she believes the tradition originated with coal mining families in Southern West Virginia. She said many women kept gardens to supplement the family's diet. She said cabbage is easy to grow and inexpensive to prepare. Chopped cabbage can be mixed with several things, including mayonnaise, vinegar and apple cider.
"They had huge gardens, and what are they going to do with all that stuff?' she said. "I would say that would be an educated guess.'
Joe Campbell, a chef at the Ramada Inn in Morgantown and president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Culinary Federation, said he has seen visitors to Morgantown eat their hot dogs topped with cole slaw. But Campbell said he has never pondered why the tradition is so popular in the southern part of the state while Monongalia residents normally shun it.
"That's what makes it interesting in food service _ the imagination,' he said. "What's a delicacy to one person is not real appealing to others.'