The first day at my cart, I was nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. After years of being somewhat of a celebrity in my hometown and attending all the big-wig functions, I was about to stand before my peers, bankrupt and serving hot dogs on the side of the road.
I had just lost everything—several furniture stores, my home, my farm, a plane —and it seemed everyone was talking about it. After very little thought or preparation, I launched a hot dog cart business in order to feed my five children. I begged and borrowed until I had the funds to purchase that first cart, and within a couple of weeks, I was on the roadside.
I worried that some would laugh and make fun of my fall from status. I worried that the stigma of “nasty street food” would label me. I worried about being a carnival food concessionaire without a carnival. After all, all I had was a hot dog cart.
I have no idea where these fine, professional vendors obtained such a stigma—but it was there, and I wanted to change that.
Changing the Perception
My utmost goal was to make a living, and I knew that at the same time I could do a few things that would aid in changing the public perception of vendors. I would dress nicely, keep my cart clean at all times, and I would treat each customer as if they were the one whose purchase allowed for me to provide for my family.
Little did I know that many vendors did the same. From bow ties to chef's uniforms, street food vendors everywhere were serving quality foods with an atmosphere that would rival a nice sit-down type restaurant.
What Is That?
In the very beginning, I had a few signs, but they were very poorly made. I'd stick them out in the ground around my cart so that people could see what I was offering. At 60 mph, those passing by didn't have a clue. Many had never seen a hot dog cart and would slow down to look at it. Some asked questions, and a few even grabbed lunch.
A Real Opportunity
Over time, I figured out how to market better, and business picked up. In seven short weeks, I had 3 carts operating. The profits from the first cart allowed me to pay back those I'd borrowed from and begin expanding my business. I was used to making thousands a month and felt I could do the same as a hot dog vendor.
I continued growing and learning—much by trial and error. At this time, the economy was horrible, and many other vendors would ask how I got started and if I could help them. I began making tutorials on YouTube, started a free blog, and began sharing what I was learning. Little did I know this would lead me into something I enjoyed even more than running my own hot dog carts; helping others overcome a lost job or downsizing.
No Luck Required
Luck played no part in my success. The reason was simple, really. Follow these steps, and you will succeed, too. It's like painting a wall— there is no luck required. Just pick up a brush, some paint, and get started. Yes, some will do better than others, but with time, the worst painter can learn the skills of the best.
The nice part is that the skills of a successful vendor are easily obtainable; they don't require talent or years of practice.
I was poised to have a great first year and had more free time than I'd ever had in the furniture business. Now my days were a few hours long, not the 10 and 12 hours I was used to. My kids got to see me for more than 5 minutes each day, and we were all happy and well fed. I expanded our mobile home to allow everyone to have their own room, and I was able to purchase two used vehicles. Life was good, and I was recovering.
Helping Others: “Where can I get a hot dog cart?”
One of the top questions asked each time someone sought my advice on getting started was where to get their hot dog cart. And just like that, it hit me: Why couldn't I make carts and sell them? I mean, short of not knowing the first thing about manufacturing and having no experience building anything, ever, why couldn't I build carts?
I contacted a great friend—who's middle name should be, MacGyver. He's the brains behind our cart manufacturing. And that’s when the ball really got rolling.
I started an online, live call-in show to help vendors worldwide and started putting much more time into my tutorial videos and blog articles. It's been over 5 years now, and I receive hundreds of emails, calls, and messages weekly.
I believe I have the best job in the world.
Each day I get to hear of successes, folks going from broke to making one heck of a good living. I get to help guide those struggling to become successful street food vendors. I'm still able to grab my food cart, go out, and sling weenies. Though now, it’s usually for a fundraiser or charity event.
Much of the stigma that hot dog and other street food vendors once had is gone. At the very least, that bad stigma has been dissolved by thousands of vendors who take pride in their operations. I have customers with master’s and doctorate degrees grabbing their carts daily and serving up fine foods for their hungry customers. Street food vendors come from every walk of life. Like me, many have little to no formal education but are driven to make it own their own.
Everbody vs. Anybody
This life isn't for everybody, but it can be done successfully by ANYBODY. It's still work, it's still a job of sort, but for the time working, it's the highest paying, most rewarding job ever. Vendors make $50, $100, or up to $300 an hour. Where else can a hillbilly from Tennessee take his high school diploma and command such an income?