Every now and then I get an amazing letter. This is more than amazing. Eric made my day, hell – he made my month. With his permission I'm sharing with you.
I have been wanting to write you for quite a while but have been consumed with building my hot dog cart for about the last year – yes, I said the last year. I remember how excited I was to receive the trailer I purchased from northern tool that would form the basis of the cart. But more about that later. The thing is, Ben, is that I feel like I owe you so much for the information that you offered so freely, your encouragement and I love the fact that you seem like a very decent family man who is well respected in your community and also in the circle of those who you have helped succeed in the hot dog vending business.
Rewinding back in time prior to the last year, I had been working in the field of information technology for about the last 18 years in jobs (yes, I changed jobs every 3 or 4 years as I progessed to more demanding positions with better pay while building up my skillset) that I hated because I had a wife, son and mortgage and I felt that it was my responsibility and mine alone to support my family. During that time, I went back to school and earned a BS in information technology in the hope of furthering my career even more while working my fulltime job, which was a challenge, but I did complete. As I continued in the I.T. game, I became more disallusioned, stressed and removed from releationships I had with friends and my marriage began to deteriorate and depression set in in a huge way. Everything came to a head about the time the economy went south (around 2007). I lost my job, unable to get another, lost my mortage and my marriage and was in financial ruin. My life was in turmoil and quite frankly, Ben, I was contemplating checking out of this life. In my mind, it had gotten that bad and I saw no other way out. At 51 years of age, I moved back in with my parents and had no clue what I was gonna do next but I did manage to work various I.T. contract jobs all of which were miserable experiences – seems like the landscape of the I.T. field was changing – everyone trying to do more with fewer dollars – seems like I was stretched so thin. It was after my last contract ended (12/18/12) that it finally set in that I NEVER wanted to work in this field again at ANY pay rate. I will quickly mention that I did get therapy that really helped to manage my depression and allowed to continue on fighting, which I am thankful I did.
It was at this point in my life that I began to seek out other career possibilities. I was losing hope because nothing was really “speaking” to me about which path I should take. THEN, one day I decided to watch this movie called ‘Going in Style' staring George Burns, Lee Strassberg and Art Carney – great movie by the way. The movie takes place in New York and there was a scene that showed the three men huddled around a hot dog cart eating hot dogs. That was the beginning my friend. I immediately wondered if one could make a decent, much less A living selling/serving hot dogs. A chill of excitement overcame me as I began to search the web looking to find out everything I could about the hot dog vending business. It was then that I came across your website, all the training videos (I purchased the cart building DVD set – and LOVED IT!), stories, etc, etc. I have to tell you that for the first time in a very long time, I felt there was hope of surviving in this world – slinging hot dogs.
I was so excited, I told my folks about the idea and they were SO supportive and excited for me. For the first time in years, they began to see positive change in me. I was excited to get up in the morning, every day was filled with hope! The more I researched you, your videos and others' stories of success the more settled I became that this was a viable form of employment I began forming a plan of action. I spent many weeks reviewing design ideas for my cart many of which came from my reserach and your website. California requires that I take a food handling class, which I took and passed early on (I dont think I even purchased my trailer yet, but it didnt matter – I was so excited). The gal leading the class worked for my county's health department. During one of the class breaks, I approached her, explained what I wanted to do and needed some direction about the design requirements of the cart. She was so helpful and even provided the contact info of a health department inspector. I immediately contacted the inspector and through him, I found out the design requirements for my cart and began building.
Link to over 300 photos of Eric's hot dog cart build – below
I didnt have much money – just what I was receiving in unemployment and so after making a parts / price list, my folks provided the money I needed to get this thing built – including tools and materials.
Your book ‘How Hot Dogs Saved My Life‘ was an inspiration to me- I SO thank you for writing a book that takes much of the guess out of learning this business from the ground up – especially for a newbie like me. Plus, after reading about what you went through, I was even more encouraged. I will mention that California is notoriously difficult to start a food vending business but I feel like I have a clear idea of what I need to do after researching the calcode and also through my communications with the health inspector. In addition, I have a friend who works for my city's business offices – in the business licensing department – and she gave me some insight into some possible places to set up my cart when I purchased my business license.
Now that I knew I wanted to settle in on this business and emersed myself, I began to think of a way I could set myself apart from others doing this business. Being a Detroit native (my family moved to cali in 1974 when I was 13 years old), I decided that I wanted to feature Detroit-style coneydogs. To date, I have tried 6 different chilli sauce recipes and offered to friends and family and enouraged their feedback. My point is that I am totally into doing what it takes to be a success in this business and creating a niche'. I was disappointed when I found out from the health inspector that they do not allow serving chili and cheese sauce from a “food vending cart.” Damn. However, he did say that if I built what was called a ‘Limited Food Prep Cart,” I could serve chili and cheese sauce, but doing so would add much more complexity to the design requirements. Among those features is a 3-compartment sink with integrated drain pans – each of the sinks had to be at least 10 inches deep by around 12 to 14 inches (width / length). I also needed to have a dedicated hand-washing sink (with specific dimentions), a 20-gallon potable water tank and 30+ gallon grey water tank with presurized and heated water system. In addition, I needed a commercial grade refridge, which requires a power system. All pretty challenging since I had no experience in building hot dog carts but I was pretty handy with hand tools – still daunting and scary, though. Again, all the research that went into my cart was substantial, to say the least, but I was determined and eager to get this done. i have toi say that while there have been some frustrations and setbacks along the way, I have had a ton of fun building while learning new skills!!
Some of the features I have built into the design are:
1.) A fully insulated firebox that can accommodate 3 full sized steam pans – 2 burners per pan – total of 6 burners.
2.) A 7 square foot frigidaire referator
3.) 4000 watt power invertor with built-in battery charger and solar charger (installed solar panel) powered with 2-98ah deep cycle marine rechargable batteries.
4.) Water system built of 1/2 inch copper pipe
5.) Stereo (I thought I'd play old style motown music)
6.) Wood frame with interior sheeted with aluminum sheet and exterior sheeted with restaurant-grade stainless steel. The HD does not want to see any wood.
I realize that my cart will be faily big and cumbersome (about 10ft x 4 ft), but it doesnt matter – I am in this for the long haul.
i had to overcome (and I continue to overcome) quite a bit of fear I had in working with sheet metal, sheet metal technique, eletrical, plumbing – things I had little or no experience with but with all the info in the net, was able to progress. Hopefully it will all pay off. 🙂 In addition, I play the violin (my dad started me out when I was 5 or 6) and so there was always the fear of losing a finger of sustain other injuries. But I have taken all precautions while working slowly but delberately.
Fast forward to the present day…I have developed a very good relationship with my ex-wife and she has remained close to me and my family and I to hers. I have an awesome relationship with my 23 year old son, who is everything in the world to me. He, too, lives with me at my parents house while he finishes college. He will graduate this May with an accounting degree – I am so proud of him. I am so thankful to have time with him between his studies while spending quality time with he and my folks. I am happy to be able to help with the upkeep of their home -all of this, to me, more important than all the money in the world.
I have spent pretty much every day either building, planning or dreaming about this hot dog cart of the last year – almost to the day of receiving my trailer last year at this time. I have taken a ton of pictures that I will definitely share with you and your followers if you would like. I need to set up an FTP site that I can use use to share my pictures – I will do this soon.
I'm sorry about the very long email but I felt so strongly about what you have meant to me, the hope you gave me, your encouagement, that I want to be an encouragement to others who were / are facing similar circumstances as me (..and you, for that matter) and offer hope as well. It all started with that movie and a dream to succeed. That's all it takes, really – a dream.
Thank you again, Ben, with much to be excited about in the future!
Incredible Photo Timeline
I am so impressed. He's done his due diligence and he built it to specs. It's one thing to grab our plans and videos from the DIY course we offer and follow along, but entirely a different story to take on such a custom job.
Eric – I wish you tons of success, I hope your pockets fill with success and begin to run over. You've done a spectacular job and I am in awe!
Leave your comments below and let Eric know what you think. Click Here For All The Pictures