Tracing the history of one of the Bay Area's most enduring eateries is not easy.
"Nobody kept books or coherent records," said Ron Dorian, grandson of an original partner in Caspers Hot Dogs. "A lot of my knowledge of company history was passed on from conversations with older relatives and not from anything in writing."
Dorian, 54, is the grandson of Steve Beklian, one of the five men who established Caspers Hot Dogs in the East Bay between the 1920s and the 1940s.
It started in the 1920s, when Kasper Koojoolian, an Armenian immigrant, decided to flee Chicago for the warmer climate and business opportunities of California.
Dorian said the first store was in Oakland, and it was called "Kaspers."
Kaspers' success soon drew friends and family, including cousins like Steve Beklian, business savvy restaurateur Paul Agajan, Hagop Beklian and brother Paul Koojoolian.
"Agajan operated two cafeterias in Cicero before moving to California. You had to be tough to operate businesses like that in Chicago in the 1930s," Dorian said.
New stores popped up in Oakland and surrounding suburbs, including the Richmond store in 1947.
As often happens in business startups, the family relationships were strained by the growing enterprise. Kasper and his brother Paul Koojoolian broke away and retained his "Kaspers" name, while the other partners branched out and expanded their "Caspers" brand, Dorian said. Paul's son, Harold Koojoolian, still operates the Kaspers in Oakland.
Tragically, Kasper Koojoolian died in 1943 while en route to Fresno, where he was looking for a ranch to buy. He always wanted to leave the city and retire as a rancher, Dorian said.
Today, there are eight Caspers with 12 owners, including Dorian, all descendants of the original five.
But it all started with a dream and impossible odds.
"The Koojoolian brothers and Beklian brothers emigrated as young boys -- all together with no adults -- fleeing Turkey with money their parents gave them," Dorian said. "The parents couldn't leave -- and they knew their children would be killed if they stayed. The five of them made it from their village in Turkey to France and sailed to Philadelphia and crossed to Chicago at a time in their lives that kids today would still be in school. Their closeness cannot be underestimated."