A celebration of Chautauqua’s iconic Hot Blue, and the culinary genius behind it

Youth Activities Center Director — and creator of the Hot Blue — Al Dibs stands for a portrait Wednesday in a quiet YAC. Carrie Legg/Staff Photographer

John Warren
contributing  writer

The Hot Blue is good. But as a Chautauqua cultural phenomenon, it’s great. 

At the Youth Activities Center, or YAC, the breaded chicken-and-hot sauce sub sandwich is so popular — at a kid-friendly price of $4.75 — that YAC Director and Hot Blue creator Al Dibs would just as soon the larger Chautauqua community didn’t know about it. It’s all he can do to meet demand among Clubbers. “Hot Blue Day” – Thursday is the only time you can order it – is bedlam at the YAC. It’s chaos, albeit choreographed chaos. 

In Week Two, at its height, the YAC fulfilled 278 orders for the Hot Blue and its sister sub, the Hot Ranch. Around the Club campus and beyond, you’ll overhear the reminders if you keep your ears perked: It’s Hot Blue Day.

“Sometimes it’s because their family gets it, others because they see their friends getting them,” said Bryce Peterson, YAC manager for this summer. “It’s a community food that has a lot of history with friends and family.”

Anyone can order a Hot Blue. But there is one important rule of engagement, for Clubbers and non-Clubbers alike: You must pre-order, preferably on the YAC website, but you can also stop in a few days ahead of time. You can order at the counter during lunch rush, but you’re going to wait. 

The Hot Blue was born more than 20 years ago. Dibs was selling chicken-patty sandwiches at the YAC and wanted something with more punch. So he added a combination of Frank’s Red Hot sauce, wing sauce and butter. In 2004, the breaded chicken sandwich became a sub, and a Chautauqua culinary icon was born.

In an organization that reveres its legends – Greg “Coach” Prechtl, Linda Prechtl, John Chubb, Alan Ruben, Don Rapp – Dibs looms as large as any of them. He started at the YAC in 1986, about the same time Prechtl started as director at Boys’ and Girls’ Club. The YAC was then an empty dance studio.

“They hired me to basically create the program,” Dibs said. “I started out with a hot plate on a desk. And the rest, as they say, is history.” 

Dibs is a Brooklyn native who came to Western New York to attend Saint Bonaventure University and never left. He retired as an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Olean Middle School in 2006, and has lived in Jamestown the past 12 years.

“I come back every year because I love my job and I really enjoy the people I work with,” Dibs said. “It’s a pleasure getting through one shift at a time with them.”

The work at the YAC is a grind, during the hour and a half or so at lunch. But with Dibs’ leadership, the execution is a well-oiled machine, down to the bullhorn used to blare out orders above the clatter of hungry Clubbers. 

“He’s definitely the best boss and person you could ask for each summer,” Peterson said. “It’s amazing how many people come up to him from years past just to say hi to him.” 

Alas, the YAC closed for the season on Aug. 18. The Hot Blue will be back in 2024; be sure to pre-order. And pick that sandwich up with an air of gratitude, knowing you’re among the lucky and the few. 

John Warren

The author John Warren