Dogged Pursuit: Professionals Find New
Livelihood Selling Frankfurters
As Gloom Spreads, Carts Sprout All Over; The Guajardo Family's Stand in Texas By Sarah Needleman (Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A1)
BANDERA, Texas -- In hard times, some small-town Americans are turning to a new livelihood with relish. Among them are Andrea and Ben Guajardo. They began selling hot dogs from a pushcart on Main Street in November.
Ms. Guajardo is a grant administrator for a health-care system. Her husband, Ben, is a pipeline operator. Theirs is the first hot-dog stand in Bandera, pop. 957 that anybody here can remember.
"It's a backup plan," says Ms. Guajardo, a mother of four. "No one knows what's going to happen with the economy, and I don't want to have to scrounge for a minimum-wage job."
Andrea and Ben Guajardo both work full-time, but began selling wieners with help from their four kids in November.
Facing pay cuts and weakened job security, more Americans are turning to this century-old, big-city trade in outposts like Bandera, where cowboys on horseback share the road with motorcyclists. Many of these vendors are working professionals with day jobs, ranging from real-estate agents to train operators.
Sales of carts, which start at about $2,000 new, have heated up in the past year.
Hot dog vendors are a familiar sight in big cities around the country. For one Texas family, their weekend business is bringing in extra cash amid a slumping economy. Sarah Needleman reports from Bandera, Texas.
Today's cart buyers are generally older and have more white-collar work experience than was traditionally the case, says Will Hodgskiss, president and "top dog" at Willy Dog Ltd., the New York manufacturer that built the Guajardo's cart . "People are either buying these carts in anticipation of a layoff or to supplement their incomes," he says. Willy Dog's sales are up 30% from March 2007.
Street Food of Choice
Hot dogs are the street food of choice for vendors because frankfurters are sold precooked and therefore tend to undergo less scrutiny from state and city health departments. They're also popular. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Americans typically consume seven billion hot dogs, according to the American Meat Institute's National Hot Dog & Sausage Council.
"It's a very recession-proof business," says Kurt Horlacher, a former sheet-metal worker who co-owns four hot-dog stands in Sarasota, Fla., with his wife, Renee, a former registered nurse.
The two say their sales have increased 20% annually since they started two years ago, and they plan to open three more stands later this year. Their eight employees, who are paid $8 an hour, include laid-off professionals and part-time workers looking to augment their earnings. "I get three to five people applying for jobs each week," says Mr. Horlacher.
A skilled cart dealer in a pedestrian-heavy area can net up to $400 a day, say many vendors and cart-company officials. Newer dealers and those in less-ideal locations make one-third to half that amount. Weekend and event-only vendors, like the Guajardos, say that when the weather is good, they too can turn a hefty profit.
The Guajardos manage their two-wheeled stainless-steel hot-dog cart just on weekends, from about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., in this Texas Hill Country downtown dotted with hitching posts, heavy-duty pickup trucks and cowboys leading cattle. They set up again on Saturday nights outside local honky-tonks like the Longhorn Saloon. They average $1,150 in take-home earnings each weekend selling roughly 400 dogs, plus drinks, chips and pickles. The couple's four children often help out during the day.
"I tell them, 'Your mom's going to pay for your college education with hot dogs," says Ms. Guajardo, while directing her oldest son, 13-year-old Ben, to put some more cans of soda and bottled water on ice. The business is named after another son, 6-year-old "Big Lou."
Before they started, "you could find a flying frog easier than a hot-dog stand," said 75-year-old William Ellis recently as he waited for a Chicago-style frankfurter, including neon green relish and sport peppers atop a poppy-seed bun.
From the Independent Street Blog
For others, hot-dogging is a stopgap. Real-estate investor Marty Katzenberger turned to it after the housing market tanked and he couldn't sell any of his properties. "I found that I'm a little clumsy with my hot dogs," says the 72-year-old, who withdrew $4,200 from his retirement savings to get started at a Sarasota, Fla., beach resort. Mr. Katzenberger, who generates an average of $150 in profits a day and works five days a week, says he's considering moving to a new location to boost his earnings further.
The work -- which requires hours of standing -- can be quite an adjustment for people accustomed to sitting behind desks at 9-to-5 jobs. There's also a lot of preparation and cleaning involved.
Then there's the growing competition. Many small cities and towns have never had to worry much about enforcing laws that limit the number of pushcarts -- until now.
Connie Means, a former college math professor who owns four wiener stands in Gadsden, Ala., recently encountered her first competition since starting her business in 2003. It came from a husband and wife who had previously sought her advice on becoming hot-dog vendors. "I tried to help them," says Ms. Means, who makes about $42,000 annually working six days a week. "I didn't realize they were going to set up two or three blocks from me."
Gadsden officials say there are more competitors on the way. The municipality of about 37,000 is now considering changes to a vending ordinance that would require new carts to be farther apart from one another. "They all want to be in a four-block radius," says Shane Ellison, a city planner.
After Jerry and Sandra Mottola ordered a $3,000 hot-dog cart online recently, they discovered that there were only two available locations zoned for the purpose in their hometown of Haverhill, Mass. A local hardware store rejected the couple's request to set up on its property. Ultimately, they scored an open spot near a courthouse, library and shopping plaza.
Mr. Mottola hopes his new business, Family Hot Dog, will supplement his sagging income as a home contractor. "I'm creating my own stimulus plan," he says. "I'm not waiting for the president.
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daily running your own hot dog cart business!
Many hot dog cart vendors earn as much as $3000 a week!
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If this is such a great business idea why doesn't everyone do it? Here's the key obstacles and what we have done to help our customers overcome them
I have no money
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Let's stay serious. If you're sick of being in a job where you're knocking yourself out every day so someone else can make the big bucks it's time to take control. Running a vending cart business is a perfect job for someone with a strong work ethic and the will to succeed. Some vendors make as much as $3000 a week working part time!
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We have over 20 years experience in helping our customers set up their new hot dog cart business. Many of them did this on a shoe string! We can put you in touch with a finance company that knows our business.
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- Instructions for a simple book keeping system.
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We have even prepared for you sample Rental Agreements and Commissary Agreements that you can use.
Can it get any easier than this?
Here's what some of our customers area saying:
This is a particularly rewarding experience from a couple who started their hot dog cart business together. (You would almost think we paid them to write this! But it was unsolicited.) Thanks for the feedback and best wishes for continued success!
David & Brenda Forsythe
"Dave's Dog House"
I will try to be brief here but wanted to share our story for those who may be thinking of this business but can't make up their minds. David was working in the car business and had been since 1989, he was making somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-70K a yr. He moved around some as most car business people will for various reasons mostly more money. Well I won't go on & on but his job was basically eliminated .
I worked for a company was an Investigative Analyst making approx 30-35K when due to some health problems had to take a leave of absence and doctors were saying I probably would not be able to return.
So here we are with a mortgage and lots of other obligations now what? We started to talking about this business and years ago I had expressed to David I wished there was some place here in town to get a decent hot dog. I told him I wish we had the money to open a shop and sell nothing but good hot dogs. Rent and expenses for a shop was not anywhere in our budget.(It is almost like if you will build it, they will come) for lack of a better term.
We started checking out web sites and collecting information on how to get started and what it would cost us to get this going. So we raked and scraped borrowed enough to buy our first hot dog cart. OUR HUMMER FROM WILLY DOG. There are companies in the US that sell these carts & we have seen them and they way they are constructed and if you are thinking about buying one DON'T!!!!!!!!We got health inspected, business license, permits and Insurance and begin to look for locations.
It was a lot of work but believe you me that in the long run it will pay off because you will as we did run across people with out business license and insurance and they complain because they can't get into the business districts. THIS IS WHY. They do not operate this like a business and if you want to succeed you must treat it like it is your living because it can be & should be & it is ours.
Our first day we sold 2 hot dogs LOL and a few drinks. David come home saying I sure hope things pick up LOL. Next day a few more dogs and on & on & on. Sales have continued to build and our business is going so well if we had more carts they all would be busy.
An example of our menu: Hot Dogs (all beef) $2.00 Smokey Dogs ( all meat) $3.00
Can Drinks $1.00, Chips $1.00, Large Kosher Pickles $1.00, we carry a special soda JONES SODA ( made in your part of the country I think) $2.00, on occ we will sell brownies $1.00 & yes even Gummy Bears $1.00 usually when there will be children but hey you would be surprised adults like Gummy Bears.
One big thing is only buy small quanity until you see how it moves. Sometimes things move faster than others depending on the crowd.
One other thing is keep it as simple as possible do not try to sell too many things. We plan to add coffee & coco this cold season and see how it moves. Our story is probably like many others, do what works for you but remember. WINNERS NEVER QUIT & QUITTERS NEVER WIN.
Will at Willy Dog is the only guy we will buy from. He has always answered our questions and always been honest and is professional and does what he says he will do. Our cart got wrecked and we just ordered a replacement from Will and when we get things rolling we plan to buy others. ONLY A WILLY CART!!!
Still Not Convinced?
Here's two more letters we've
You have never worked in the food service industry before?
You have no idea how to run a hot dog cart?
Our free Hot Dog Cart Operations Manual gives you all the information you need to run your very own vending cart. It takes you through the steps of operating a hot dog vending business on a daily basis.
Here's Another Noteworthy Testimonial:
Here's an experience from the Martin family. It brings us great pride to hear of a family success story.
Just thought I’d drop you a line to let you know how much my wife and I have enjoyed doing business with you.
When Angela and I decided to try something on the side, we looked high and low for something we both could enjoy. When I came across you’re a in one of the local newspapers we knew we had to get in touch with you. After meeting with you and discussing the opportunities and details, we were more than anxious to get going. Willydog had everything we were looking for: the ability to be our own boss, the ability to dictate our own hours, involvement in the community, and most importantly, being able to spend time together in a fun, relaxed environment.
In closing, I would like to say that being a part of the Willydog team has been a most enjoyable and rewarding experience.
R,A,and B M
Recession proof business.
What about the recession? Isn't this a bad time to start a new business?
No way! People gotta eat. And the trend in food service is towards pick up and take away foods as the recent Time Magazine article highlighted. It's a growing industry even when the economy is faltering.
The key to success is drawing upon our more than 20 years of first hand experience. Will Hodgskiss, the owner of Willydogs, was himself a hot dog cart owner. He built his business from the ground up and learned a lot about the business along the way. Now he is sharing his knowledge with you.
Our free online business guide helps you find recession proof locations in your area where you can set up your new Willydog cart. And we teach you how to run your cart and avoid the pitfalls that those without our experience often run into. See our Section on Tips for Success.Check out our Hot Dog Cart Location Ideas Page and our brief tutorial on How to Select a Location
Are you stumped by those confusing Health Department Regulations?
Can't understand that language? Don't know where to begin? Or who to talk to?
We have done the homework for you.
Our plain language Health Department help section takes the mystery (and misery) out of dealing with the County Health Department regulations.
We have prepared an everyday language, easy to understand manual of Health Guidelines for hot dog carts.
We walk you through the procedures and show you what you need to do to meet the requirements of a mobile food vendor.
We have even looked up your local county health department web site for you. See our Health Department Links page.
Are you living in California where no-one seems to understand all the new rules for mobile food vendors? Are you baffled by the endless list of regulations?
Do not give up. We spent countless hours working through the new California Retail Food Code (Cal Code). We specially developed a series of vending carts designed to satisfy the requirements of the California health code. See our dedicated California Hot Dog Cart Web Site. Then we took those hard to understand regulations and put them into plain language for you in a new California Hot Dog Cart Health Guide.
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