"Joe Fencz, who with his brother made Charlie's Pool Room in Alpha one of the most popular hot dog joints in New Jersey, died early Wednesday after a battle with bladder cancer.
Fencz, 68, lived virtually all his life on East Boulevard in Alpha -- above the shop where his grandmother Elizabeth Fencz in 1925 developed the sweet onion sauce that became a raving point for countless hot dog aficionados.
Fencz and his brother John Fencz ran Charlie's Pool Room since the mid-1970s.
'Joey would do the talking and I would do the cooking,' John, 63, said Wednesday. 'He's with the Lord now.'
Joe Fencz was diagnosed with cancer in the spring and spent the last several weeks at a rehabilitation center in Andover, N.J., his brother said.
He remained upbeat and fought up until his last days, John Fencz said.
'Near the end, he had lost the ability to speak,' he said.
Undoubtedly, it was Joe Fencz's machine-gun style ribbing that brought many of the old-style penny candy store's customers back to Charlie's Pool Room. John Fencz made the hot dogs in a single skillet in the back of the shop and dished out thousands over the years.
The shop's signature frankfurter was 'the mealie' -- pan-fried and topped with Grandma Fencz's secret Hungarian onion sauce, and fresh-cut onions and peppers. A customer coined the name because it wasn't just a hot dog; it was a meal, Joe Fencz used to say.
'Every time you went in there, you always came out with a lot more than a full stomach,' said Lynn Ehrhardt, a frequent customer and friend. 'They were very positive-thinking people. They told good stories. They were unique in the area as far as brothers go.'
'Running Charlie's Pool Room all those years, they were the talk of the area,' Ehrhardt said. 'They're just real good people and the community's definitely going to miss Joe.'
Charlie's Pool Room hadn't served a hot dog since May 2013, when the Warren County Health Department required upgrades in equipment and ventilation in the cramped kitchen.
The business remained open selling candy in front of the shop, and disciples launched a campaign that summer to help raise money and bring the place up to code.
Last year's harsh winter, followed by Joe's illness, derailed plans to get back up and running, John Fencz said. As a result, a Warren County institution has likely come to an end.
'For one person, I couldn't do it,' John Fencz said. 'It's not a one-person job.'
John Fencz said he'll remember his brother not so much as a pillar of the business but more as someone who helped save his life.
Joe Fencz became a devout Christian in the 1970s and eventually persuaded his brother to do the same. They're longtime members of Calvary Bible Fellowship Church in the Finesville section of Pohatcong Township.
Entering the nondescript storefront was like walking back in time. While it didn't have its own website, Charlie's Pool Room enjoyed a resurgence thanks to online reviews and accounts of specialty hot dogs.
Joe Fencz never forgot how it all started.
'Without the sauce, we would close the doors tomorrow,' he said in a 2012 interview. 'We're waiting for a buyout -- someone to make us an offer we can't refuse.'
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Wednesday but will be handled by Finegan Funeral Homes Inc. in Phillipsburg, John Fencz said."