So you wanna be a hot dog man?

Why be a Hot dog man (or woman)? If you're reading this, maybe you're looking for the answer. As someone once said: "Just when you think you have the answers, I change the questions!"

For me, I wanted a low key business that involved lots of interaction with people. I like most people and enjoy chatting about the news of the day, the Red Sox, football, the weather, kids, wives, families etc. I was a commissioned salesperson for 20 years before I started this venture, so I know about people. I just wanted to deal with people straight up, without an angle. I have something they want and I give it to them-SIMPLE. I wanted no more of the stress and high pressure of commissioned sales.

I also wanted to be involved with hot dogs because I like hot dogs and I feel the way I cook and serve my hot dogs is the best way; I have never found a hot dog anywhere that tastes quite like mine. The secret is in the way I cook them (not telling...yet) and serving them on freshly butter grilled buns (Its all about the buns, baby). I figured if I could serve up a consistently good hot dog, I'd do OK.

Which leads me to the final reason I got into the business- MONEY! Cash is KING and you can make a very nice income selling hot dogs. I know I'll never be a Rockefeller from this venture, but I can earn enough and be relaxed and happy and have plenty of time left over for my family, my little league team, my master's degree and now Helium.
The work itself is very uncomplicated. Serve good food and treat people nice. If you do that, the customers keep coming back.

One of the pitfalls of this business is crappy weather (I write this on a night in February and its about 5 degrees outside-it was a cold and lonely day at the hot dog truck). In the winter you'll be cold-like ice fishing without the fish or beer; in the summer you'll be hot-picture a 95 degree day and you're standing next to a grill all day. Every once in a while I also feel that the work is too repetitive-that feeling usually goes away once I get the first customer of the day. Overall, for me, the advantages and lifestyle this business brings outweigh the bad stuff.
What you need to ask yourself is why do YOU want to be in the hot dog biz? If you decide that you want to give it a go, keep reading about how to get going.

I run my business in the same location, Monday through Friday from 10:30-3PM. Other folks will travel to different locations, operate "after the bars close" in hopping nightlife areas while others work large events (fairs, festivals, parades etc.). I have a customer who sells sausages on Friday and Saturday nights in a downtown Worcester, MA area with lots of bars and he also works Downtown Worcester on the 4th of July-he sold 1200 pounds of sausages on 7/4/2006! For the purposes of this article, I'll deal with the "same location" model.

The first thing you need to do is find a good spot. Anywhere there are lots of people is good. If you are in an urban area where parking is limited or you can locate in a park, you may want to consider a hot dog cart. If you're in a suburban setting, look for areas where there is a lot of vehicle traffic and a ready supply of regular hungry customers. Good parking is a must for this type of setup. If you have the space in your spot (and the money) you may want to consider a truck or trailer for your biz. I like having a truck-mine is a "mobile kitchen"-because there is more room, shelter from the elements and a decent amount of food prep and storage space.
If you are going to be on public property, check with the local police department for any restrictions you may face regarding locations or any special site permits you may need. Most municipalities have websites these days and oftentimes that type of information is available there, if not the cops are a good place to start (cops like hot dogs-I have many as regulars).

Locating on private property eliminates the need for site permits, but you'll have to pay rent. You also need to check with the local building inspector to see if there are any site permits. This is the arrangement I have. The advantages of my location are plenty of parking, good visibility on a well traveled route, proximity to a large industrial/office park and lots of construction in the area (construction workers like hot dogs too). I also know my location will be plowed on snowy mornings and, since I am in the parking lot of an office building and gas station(with a car wash going in next spring) I know there will always be steady traffic in and out. One other plus is that there are few eating places nearby that don't involve going into a congested secondary highway-folks pop out of the back entrance of the office park to get to my spot. The rent is worth it. If you can find a site with these characteristics-you'd be well advised to snag the location. This will involve some networking and sleuthing on your part.

If you get into this business, you will need to get a permit from your local Board of Health.
Many local Boards require Servesafe certification before they will issue a permit. If they do, you'll need to take the Servesafe exam.

Dealing with the Board of Health really means dealing with the local Health Inspector-he or she is the person who you will deal with. Just like any other occupation, some are nice and some are jerks-I am lucky that my local Health Inspector is a fair and nice man-it doesn't hurt that he likes hot dogs too. Whether the person is nice or not, they are a resource. You can find the local Health Inspector's contact info on any municipalities' website. The best thing to do is call them up and politely engage them in a conversation. Tell them you want to open a hot dog stand, where you were thinking of locating (again if its on public land make sure you've checked out local restrictions and permits, if you're on private property let the inspector know where), let them know you'll be getting your Servesafe and ask them what you need to do. Most inspectors will be straightforward and let you know exactly what you need to do and what type of equipment will meet with local health codes.

Once you've figured out what the Health inspector requires, you can move on to acquiring a hot dog cart, truck or trailer. Make sure whatever you buy will comply with what the inspector told you. There are many varieties and manufacturers and prices range from a couple of thousand dollars to over $200,000 for a totally decked out mobile kitchen. You'll need to decide what will suit your site, your tolerance for the elements and your budget. If you're buying new, try to deal with a company geographically nearby-it makes no sense to order a hot dog cart or truck from a company in Sacremento if you live in Philadelphia! There are always good values to be found in used equipment too, try to find someone selling hot dog equipment used and you'll get more bang for your buck. There are many manufacturers of hot dog carts, trucks and trailers online. Do a Google search and you'll find hundreds of manufacturers of all different kinds of equipment. Do your research before you buy!

As with any business, one of your fixed costs will be insurance. Determining how much you'll pay for insurance each month will need to be factored into your pricing. Obviously, if you have a Hot Dog Truck, like me, you will need Vehicle Insurance. For a quick, easy and convenient quote online, you can go to the Insurance Portal Online to get an idea of what those costs will be. This is one of those companies that gets quotes from over 100 different companies depending on your needs so you can compare rates and coverages in an easy, "one stop shopping" format.

Depending on where you are located (public spot or private property) you may have to increase your liability insurance on your vehicle or, in some instances, purchase separate business liability insurance. I have all my liability insurance wrapped into one homeowners policy with different riders for different liability issues, some business related others personal.

People fear being sued so having the proper insurance is important in any business and is almost always required by landlords and municipalities. I always try to buy the cheapest insurance policy I can find and I am always very careful!

Here's an ebook I found helpful when I was starting out. I still refer to it now and again. It's worth spending the thirty bucks before you go too deep into the process. It's a bit over the top for running a simple hot dog truck, but there's no BS like some of the other "Start a Hot Dog Business" ebooks out there. Lots of information and worth the dough!

Starting a Catering Business Start-Up Guiude Kit


Click Here to check this ebook out.

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9 comments:

Larry said...

Hi,

I am interested in getting started in the hot dog business. Im in Long Island NY, I am looking at several trucks this weekend. I was told the truck is doing between 200-350 per is that a average days income?

Thanks,

Larry
lnsmktg@aol.com

hotdogman said...

"Doing $200-350 a day" is open to interpretation. Is that total sales? Profit? Number of Dogs?

A quality hotdog (you can go cheap, but a quality dog will earn you a loyal clientelle and more money in the long run-anyone can make a crappy hot dog; if you plan on working the same spot all the time go for QUALITY), dressed with mustard, relish and onion breaks down like this:

bun: $0.10 each

dog: $0.30

condiments:$0.05

small ware: $0.05

TOTAL: $0.50

Sell 100 dogs for $1.50, make $100,
200 sold = $200 etc. Fool around with different prices etc. You'll also make a few bucks on soda's, chips, etc. Plus you should have other items too (my Cranberry Walnut Chicken salad is a big seller as is the chili)

Remember, the guy selling you the truck wants to sell the truck so its possible he'll inflate his stats! You most likely won't blow the sales out the first few days or even weeks until word gets out that you serve a good product.

If you work the same spot every day (my method) you need a lot of foot traffic and/or a lot of vehicle traffic and PARKING!

If you serve a quality product, have fair prices and have some personality, you'll gain a loyal following-people will even buy dogs during a N'or easter!

If you plan to work events and festivals, you have the potential to make much more in a day. My experience is with the single location for the most part, but a good "extra gig" every once in a while boosts the bottom line!

Keep us posted on your purchase and business!

Anonymous said...

Great site! Really a wealth of information and entertaining! So I'm a lawyer who has had it with law and want to buy a hot dog truck. I have looked at a bunch of old trucks with 100,000 miles or more..some with new engines. Do you think it is a mistake to buy one of these old trucks with a lot of miles on it? How many miles did your truck have on it when you purchased it? ---Dave

hotdogman said...

My Truck runs, but I haven't moved it in over a year! I wouldn't want to drive it.

If you plan on driving it around, have a mechanic check it thouroughly.

If you are going to be in the same place every day and you can leave the truck there, sound mechanicals are less neccessary.

If you really want to do it, nail down locations and make sure what you are purchasing meets the health codes BEFORE buying.

Anonymous said...

Hi!! So I'm in the process of taking the steps to open up my own mobile kitchen. I will be located across from a train station. I'm just waiting on the Health Dept, to contact me and let me know what the specifications are. I've been looking at financing a trailer or truck. I'm not sure what kind of power source I need and how to deal with the water and wastewater tanks. Any advice>??

hotdogman said...

Many mobile kitchens will have a special power hookup that powers the entire setup through one plug, whether it is electrically supplied or via a generator. Check with who you are buying from for the power specs. You may want to consider a generator-but get a QUIET ONE!

If you need to bring electric power to your site, you'll either need access to an existing power source or you'll need to contact your local power company to arrange access. Many mobile operators in my area have a power source brought right to a telephone pole. Check with your local power company for options and costs.

As for water, you'll most likely have a freshwater tank which you can fill with a hose. You may also have a separate tank for hot water depending on the layout. Waste water or "grey water" will be collected in a separate tank. As long as you aren't using any nasty chemicals, you can water your own garden with this water!

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Can the hot dog business be used for good?

I'd love for you to come and see an entirely new approach to helping people through business. Our blog helps to financially support and fund a small business in a developing country, each and every day. In return for this all we ask is for people, just like you, to donate a business idea that we post. Those business ideas are made available for free on the site to help spark the imagination of budding entrepreneurs. By donating an idea you can help to change a life.

Providing a link and doing a review of the site would be nice but I'd like to invite you to take five minutes out of your busy day and donate a business idea to the site. Your business idea will directly help fund a small business in need at no cost to you.

When your idea is published you'll get a link back to any website you want plus you'll get to see the picture of the exact person you helped through the donation of your business idea. So don't miss seeing that, subscribe to our free RSS feed or daily email while you are on the site.

I'd like to leave you with a big virtual hug as a thank you for your time and hopefully your donation of a business idea.

Steve

Site Link: http://businessideaoftheday.org

Anonymous said...

So rather than give up my locations, I'll ask a general question. I live in a VERY high traffic but rural area where the town rolls up the streets at 10pm, BUT the area hotels are sold out every weekend. My thought is getting a few carts (the basics) and putting them at each hotel from 10pm to 3am each Fri/Sat (As a Hotelier I can also say that it is the #1 request after 11pm is "Who delivers". Any feedback or thoughts for me??

hotdogman said...

Find out what you need for permitting and get the location wrapped up-then worry about getting "the basics" together.

Why the hell would you want to be up at 3 AM selling hot dogs?

:op

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