One more Newbie...

Lonestar Dogs
Junior Burger
2012/11/08 13:07:13
Its a very long post - My first post but already this has been on heck of an adventure! 
October 16th, 2012 - We found a hot dog cart for sale on Craigslist. At $1400 it looked like a price that really couldn't be ignored. I'd been researching the possibilities of a hot dog cart for close to a year now. I'd been reading the forums, all that I could find, studying the pros and cons of the business best I could. Purchased one of the ‘How to Succeed with Weenies Without Really Trying’ courses. Then suddenly, there it was. From the picture included it certainly appeared to be all that I'd hoped for! We drove the hour and a half to where it sat out in the weather, to look it over. Within 3 minutes I knew that I wanted it. Exchange of money from me to them, hook it to the truck and I was out of there! The proud owner of a hot dog cart!!
Well grand! We get it home and start inspecting it closely. It was a CMS Model 325 cart. It had a grill and a griddle attached. The griddle was a wonderful shade of uniform rust. When I bought it the previous owner assured me all the burners worked. We turned on the propane and started checking burners. The grill worked great! The griddle worked great! The warmer burners for the steam tables didn't work at all. Hmm. Next, the water tanks. 5 gallons cold, 5 gallons hot, 12 gallon waste tank. All good!! Filling them to test them out we learned the cold water line had a leak.
This is all within an hour or two of getting it home. Finally we decided to step back and go grab some dinner. What better way to celebrate the purchase of a hot dog cart than with a trip to a local hotdog cafe? Great place, the owner was friendly, humorous, the service was great and the dogs were good. In the course of a quick conversation with the owner I happened to mention I'd just bought a hot dog cart. His eyebrows inched towards his hairline. “Come talk to me at some point when it’s less busy. I've been getting requests to cater but don't have a dog cart myself.” How cool is that? I've got a cart, I've got a potential business partner, yet I still have no clue as to what I am doing!
Did you know? In order to fix the water line on a hot dog cart you have to completely disassemble the top portion of the cart? Yeah, I wasn't aware of that either. Already this potential business is teaching me things! How to remove pop rivets, how to install pop rivets, how to wire trailer lights. I forgot to mention the trailer lights weren't working.
So there it sits in the garage, the top totally removed, tail lights half wired while I try to figure out where the damned wires go, but I wasn't resting on my laurels! No sir! I'd gotten a tax-ID number! I'd gotten a DBA. From hence forth it would be Terry's Lonestar Dogs! We'd played with Terry's Tasty Dogs, Terry's Texas Dogs, but Lonestar Dogs just had a certain cache to it, being that we live in Texas, I'm a proud native Texan, it just worked. Researching information daily and trying to figure what I needed to get things up and running in between taking parts of the cart apart, it turns out one of the first things I needed was a Commissary partner. Several of the forums suggested reaching out to local churches. So I did. Why is it that every church in this area these days has a school attached? If they have a school attached it seems the thought of allowing their kitchen to be used by some unknown 'hot dog guy' is repulsive. “We have children throughout the day. It would never do to have someone in the kitchen while they are there!”
Multiple trips to Sam's Club were needed. If I was going to have a business I really needed a printer that worked. My old one just wanted to continually tell me it was unaligned and feed it more paper. I'd started calling it Audrey II. While we were out we decided to head back to hot dog cafe for lunch. It was late enough in the afternoon that I figured I might be able to discuss some business with the owner in the process.
Wow! That was a good lunch! We'd only had the cart 3 days, I had it half disassembled in the garage but I had my first catering gig lined up in three weeks time! I was on a roll! I still needed to get that water line switched out. I needed to get the cart put back together. I needed to get the cart inspected. I need to finish my Food Handler's Course and get that license. The trailer needed tags. I did get the warming burners working though. I am well on my way to having my own business!
November 8th update: After about four different attempts at getting the water lines repaired I finally find the ‘guy’! That one person in the Big Box Home repair stores that had a clue. His suggestion was quite simple. Don’t shop here for what you are trying to do. Go to a plumbing store. Sure enough that was all it took! We got the water tanks functioning. I attempted to take the cart to three different Lube and Tune type businesses to get the lights fixed. They each wanted an arm, a leg or some combination thereof for what looked like ten minutes worth of work to me. Finally giving up on that I once more tackled the light issue myself. Once that ground wire was grounded properly everything else fell into place. I was right! Ten minutes was about all it took. We got the cart put back together, cleaned up and looking better than it had since we bought it. Almost brand new but not quite. We’ve found a Restaurant Depot to buy our supplies from. Got in touch with ‘Name Brand Frankfurter’ type company. They agreed to supply an umbrella and signage. They also chipped in to supply products for our ‘Grand Opening’!
Finally found a Commissary and only blocks from the house too! We passed the County Health Code inspection in just minutes. I’m two days from my first gig and everything is in place. I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m still searching for that daily setup location. I’m sure that too will come.
I am doing everything completely OUT OF ORDER. I realize that. But, here's the thing, I'm doing it. It may be out of order, it may be unorthodox, but I'm moving in the direction of having my very own business and I couldn't be happier!
Will it work out? I know this much, I am not going to give up, I am not going to quit. Yep, it will be hard work but it will work. I've not found a location to set up on a daily basis. I should have done that first. But I do have a catering gig in just two days. I’ve already made some amazing contacts. I've got a Commissary. I've got a catering partner that is willing to provide his products, his expertise, so long as I go and sell at the catering event well ok, I’ve got to buy perhaps 6 onions. Otherwise everything else will be stocked tomorrow night. We'll split the profits and I'll get my face out there in the public eye. He has catering opportunities that come up about once a month or so. In the meantime I'll be pounding pavement to find those places I can set up daily.
So, I've begun!
My thanks already go out to all the Roadfood Professional Hot Dog vendors who have been my teachers for the past year without even realizing they were conducting classes!
Re:One more Newbie... 2012/11/08 13:30:14
nice. good for you stick in there.
when you go see a used cart you always bring a propane tank with you. also, almost all the cart manufactors have thier cart scematics online.
when your steam table is working right it should do a load of dogs from frozen to ready in like 7 mins. restaurant depot? vienna beef? they said they will do the same thing for me when I startup. I love thier food and buns too. and pickles peppers and sauces.
Junior Burger
Re:One more Newbie... 2012/11/08 13:35:48
Wow..sounds like you over came some major hurrtles to do what you love.. Congrats and I hope everything works out wonderful for you..  I have seen hot dog vendors at our local Home Dept, Walmart and mall and they do amazing they have lines all the time. The toppings were great,  ( chili, peppers, onion, relish, pickles, mustard, ketchup, cheese, bacon etc.) and over all  great food and fun time,. ( they had fun music playing and gave coupons and punch cards..  Hope you make a fortune and have a fleet of weenie carts!! 
post edited by Tsboss - 2012/11/08 13:44:34
Lonestar Dogs
Junior Burger
Re:One more Newbie... 2012/11/08 13:38:21
Heh. One more thing I did wrong in the beginning. I didn't take a tank. But! The one on there is still mostly full and I've a spare for the event Saturday. I'm going with Vienna Beef, just didn't know if I should mention the branding or not. The Rep for Vienna in Texas is a fantastic guy and in my opinion nothing else is quite as good as a Vienna weenie. I'll have a Chicago Dog, New York style dog, A Coney, a polish sausage, and a regular ole nekkid. Frito Pie and Nachos as well as chips, drinks, and cookies available. I've tested out my steam tables and everything heats up as it should. The cart is so much closer to new than it was at first. I'll post a few pics of my 'Grand Opening' Saturday when its all said and done.  
TsBoss - Thanks for that! I'm totally flying by the seat of my pants here but it's a thrill ride so far!
post edited by Lonestar Dogs - 2012/11/08 13:39:49