In Part Four of the How To Start A Hot Dog Business we discuss budgeting and finding a commissary.
When you are finished here, you may want to check out some bonus information here:
I interviewed a gentleman the other day on hotdoganswerman.com and you can listen to his interview, its Duggs Doggs and “Good Good” is his slogan. If you listen to that, he is a part time vendor and he loves this and makes an incredible income and does well with it he even gives the good days and the bad days as well as his average too. So that will give you an idea, and that’s just one guy. There are lots of part time vendors who are making over $1,500 a month. I know a lady right now who is making over $1,500 a week working two days week and she is making over $1,500 a WEEK. That’s more of an extreme, she has an incredible location and a captive audience and they are going to buy and she is the only vendor and she is the only way for them to eat there without having to get in their car to leave. She always does well and they are mad if she doesn’t show up. Some of you will find those locations and those locations exist though for everyone and it’s a matter of finding them.
Get an IJ PDF if you get a no IJ is the institute of Justice. You can find that over at the blog on www.learnhotdogs.com/justice if you read over this you will know exactly how to present it to the city and we have had some vendors who have gone to city council meetings and presented that information and the city had to check with the city attorneys and the attorneys have come back and said that they were right and you cannot restrict vendors the way they were trying to do.
If you still have no headway you can file a complaint with the Institute of Justice they are a group of attorneys that work for free. When I say free they get donations from vendors, I donate and lots of other vendors donate to them as well. They fight all kinds of things but they are like the ALCU of hot dog vendors. Sometimes getting a copy of that PDF to the mayor or city attorney works.
I know a vendor in SC who went to the city council and they said they would check with the attorney and they did and the attorney said he could so he was able to vend in his community. I personally talked to him three years ago so I know that it works.
Another option, I don’t recommend because of the cost, but you can file a suit yourself. If the IJ can’t take your case cause they are backlogged you can file your own suite.
If the answer is no there are options like the ones I mentioned in the earlier videos such as; going outside city limits, going to a different town the point is you have other options and you still have the catering option, don’t forget the catering option that puts you in a whole different category.
You’ll want to know your budget. I have heard of some cities requiring just to look at your plans, your business plans or blue prints on your cart and then charge you $800 for a review. That is highway robbery and should be illegal and I’ve only heard of these outrageous rates only in California and some in Washington and it should be illegal and if someone were to challenge it they could probably get it overturned. That is an exorbitant amount of money just to be inspected. That is just one city and not all of them charge that. Its just basically one way a city has to curtail vendors from setting up in their city. They can’t restrict vendors but they can make it nearly impossible for them come into their city and that s what they do. Just know your fees in advance and the person you ask is the person you talked to about zoning and codes. Also call your health department person you’ll want to ask them how much is the fee for an initial inspection. I will cover more of this in a bit but right now I want go over your budget real quick.
Get a piece of paper and write everything down, you don’t need “QuickBooks” or any fancy accounting software just write down what you know your expenses will be to start out.
There are some cities in Washington State that do these short term permits for three day four, five day permits. They are expensive but for some vendors it’s perfect, if they have the right location and they don’t want to have a commissary. Washington State has some rules where you can go in and serve anything, but you can sere anything wants from a cart with a short-term permit. You can literally go and serve loaded baked potato and deep fired and blah blah and don’t need a commissary, don’t need anything other than the short-term permit.
A commissary is just a fancy word for commercial kitchen. Most vendors are not required to have a commissary, some states say you can serve anything on your cart as long as its prepared and packaged in single serving sizes at your commissary. So if you wanted to sere spaghetti dinners at your cart, as long as it is cooked and prepackaged at your commissary you could sere off it at your cart, as long as you have a way to keep it heated. Some cities say you have to have a hand wash sink, three basin sink, and a floor drain period Tennessee says that and they can’t care about anything else.
You may find out because your cart has four sinks that you may not need a commissary and they don’t’ care if you are washing your dishes at home. However, some though, and all state rules say specifically that they don’t you washing your pans at home they want you washing them in a commissary.
Lets say your inspector says “we don’t care about cheese on your cart” and then you get a new inspector and he doesn’t allow cheese. If your health inspector says he doesn’t care about a commissary because you have four sinks. Just know ahead of time what the rules are in case they change inspectors on you maybe required to have a commissary at some point.
Finding a commissary – is a necessary evil, you need a place to wash rinse sanitize your pans, you need a place to prep. A lot of vendors prep from home but you still have to have a commissary they aren’t going to follow you around but most of the time you will be required to have one.
Here is my advice on it, Sam’s Club, in some places lets vendors list them as the commissary. Which means they will let you go in there and chop your onions in their commercial kitchen and wash your pans. I know a business, its like a box store they let a vendor store his cart there and use their kitchen, its not a Sam’s but it’s a big box store.
Sometimes you can use a church. Here are two things if you get a no to using a church as your commissary. 1 WHY? 2Where is that in the code? Remember that part about where is that in the code. First find out if he is right and then find why.
What are some other odd places you could use a commissary. Another guy I know you may have heard him Rob he hosts with some time on the hot dog vendor radio show. He found that some vendors use a daycare. A lot of daycares because they are a commercial kitchen and fee the public they are required to be inspected and because they are a commercial kitchen they have the right to allow you. They might ask what do we get out of this and you can always offer them a little nominal fee for every month.
The VFW, Shriners hall there are tons of places like these. You may have no luck with some of these places and you may have to find a real commercial kitchen. Don’t go to McDonalds, TGI Fridays just go to your mom and pop stores they might help you out. I would approach them and explain that you need a home base if they need to but you probably won’t be there. Just make sure you work out the details of the agreement. Sometimes if you build a rapport with the mom and pop restaurant they may not charge you anything. I know of other vendor who agreed to sell some of their homemade cookies on her cart and they were excited and she got use their commissary for free.
A home commissary is possible. If you don’t have the money to begin with then I wouldn’t mess with building a commissary. I have heard of vendors going in together and building or even sometimes looking on craigslist or even calling a realtor and asking if they know of any closed down restaurants that are for sale and asking if they would be interested in renting it out to them.
Trading out – sometimes you can trade out like with the cookies. Or if you ever need to use the cart I’ll let you use the cart, as long as I’m not using. Now it looks like a tit for tat and everybody is working out and everybody is happy.
Some people will say, “Can I be sued?” some individuals might be worried about being sued because they have allowed you the use of their commercial kitchen. Anybody can sue anybody, I could sue you because I don’t like the way you’re looking at your computer monitor, and will I win? Probably not, but I could sue. You could calm their fears by getting a liability policy, and if you’re a member of the mobile food vendors association you can get a liability on your cart for $2.99 and you can list your commissary as a loss payee and that means they are now covered and if they get sued they are covered and it didn’t cost them any extra. There are things you can do like that to make them feel better about working with you. I did a podcast on this issue you can go to the website and search for it under “Can my commissary be sued”.
There are some states that require you get something signed saying they are allowing you to use their commissary. That is not the end of the world its not that hard. Some states will provide the forms. If they don’t provide one you can make a simple one real easily.
Some vendors are hesitant to ask for help and they may opt out and sometimes they will build their own. You may not want to do that because of the cost. Whatever route you take you will want to do one thing. Always leave it cleaner than when you got there. It doesn’t matter if it was filthy when you got there and you clean up your mess and be like it’s about as clean when I started. You don’t want to do that, you always want to go above and beyond and keep it clean, so they can be like “he stays out of our way, he always cleans up and he makes it look better than we do”. Now you get to keep your commissary.
Some commissaries have charged $500, I’ve never paid that but I have heard of commissaries charging that much. I wouldn’t pay that I personally don’t any paying that much. I have heard of $350 which is about a common average that someone will charge and that s not that bad, if they are giving you a place to prep and sometimes they will provide freezers and everything including the cart.
Go to part 5 here.