I have no idea where Starkville, Mississippi is – but if I’m ever in the area, I know where to get an authentic New York hot dog served by an authentic New Yorker from an authentic New York hot dog cart.
With a smile and a hint of a Long Island accent, Bonkoski greets patrons from all walks of life, from grandmothers and their grandchildren to grizzly men in company trucks to professionals in suits and ties. It’s like a scene out of a New York sitcom, only the location is north Starkville and the setting is anything but urban.
Find out after the jump how someone from Lawn Guyland (I can say that, I grew up there) ended up in Starkville, Mississippi operating a New York hot dog cart.
Can you tell me a bit about what you have going on here and how this came about?
Basically, it’s just an idea that I’ve had for a long time. I moved to Mississippi a couple years ago and had a couple business dealings that kind of fell through, so I decided to go after my lifelong dream and open up a hot dog business.
Where were you before you moved here?
I moved here from Florida. I lived in Orlando, but I’m originally from Long Island, New York.
So is this your first summer running a hot dog stand?
Yes it is. I’ve only been open two months. Yesterday (Aug. 12) was my two-month anniversary.
How has it been going so far?
It’s getting better and better every day. The more people see me here, the more they stop by. It’s been good.
What’s the difference between a New York-style hot dog and a hot dog you might be able to get around here?
There’s a couple of different things. Basically, what that means is the cart comes from the New York style. On the corners of Manhattan, they’re basically on every single corner. In a 7-by-11-mile stretch, you’ll have hot dog stands all over the place and they’re shaped like this. Some have other attachments where you can do hot pretzels and other things, but these are what the vendors do on the corners. Plus, the fact that I have eight different condiments. I have chili, cheese, sauerkraut, mustard, ketchup, onion, relish, mayonnaise and I even used to have onions and peppers, so I have a lot of different additives that you can put on a hot dog or a Polish sausage. And they’re all 100 percent all beef, which is a big deal because it adds to the taste.
You do realize you’re in pork country down here, right?
Yeah, they like their hamburgers though, so I know people like beef.
What other stuff do you offer here?
Just hot dogs, sausages, chips, sodas. Occasionally I’ll carry nachos and cheese. You can get them with chili if you want. I may add a few things here and there. It’s pretty basic. What I’d like to do is build up a clientele and continue to have them come back. The taste is everything.
Is this a full-time gig now?
Yeah, kind of. The idea is to get two or three of these (stands), being that I’m the only game in town. Really, there’s nobody else that sells a hot dog unless you want to go to Sonic. And it’s quick and easy for people to stop by. Hopefully I can get a name. Hopefully people will say, ‘Hey, there’s the hot dog guy’ and stop by. If I can set up two or three stands across town and people start to know who I am, hopefully that will help me grow.
Do you go out and buy these hot dogs or make them from scratch or what?
I purchase them from a food vendor just like a restaurant would and I store them. So, I don’t have much inventory except for my sausages and my hot dogs. I make sure I have mustard and relish and ketchup and things like that.
What do you like about this job?
I’m a people guy. I love dealing with people. That’s what a hot dog stand is all about. It’s not just about picking up a hot dog. It’s about meeting different people every day. I’ve always been in the people business. I just love dealing with people.
What are some of the difficulties that come with this kind of job?
The heat. Undoubtedly the heat this summer. It’s been real rough. When I first started, I didn’t even have a canopy. So, other than the small umbrella that was sitting on top of the cart, I didn’t have any canopy.
Did you have to get any kind of permits from the city to set up like this?
Oh yeah. I have all the permits that you need. You know, the city of Starkville, the state of Mississippi, the county. I have insurance. I took a ‘serve safe’ class to make sure I’m certified to serve food. Every permit you need possible, I’ve got. I’ve also done a couple of events. I have an event coming up on Aug. 21 called ‘Music on the Green’ at Overstreet Elementary School right down the road. A choir and a few other bands are going to be playing.
You also set this cart up on Old Highway 25, right?
Yeah, that’s the location I work on Mondays and Saturdays, which is on 25, just past Starkville High School. I’m there Mondays and Saturdays and I’m here Tuesdays through Fridays. I’m usually open by about 10:30 (a.m.) and go until 4 or 5 (p.m.). It’s getting better. The money will get better when I can get a couple of carts, I think. But, hey, the weather has been good to me, so things are going well.
Is there any secret here or magic recipe you have to help your business get better?
Unfortunately, no. I wish I could say that I did, but no. Hopefully, with the way that I am, I can continue to attract people and keep people coming back with the quality of the food. The quality of the hot dogs and sausages is fantastic. It’s a good tasting product.
Is this going to be a year-round venture or are you just here for the summer?
I’m going to stay here as long as I can — until it gets too cold or there’s too much lightning. Lightning scares me. I’m a walking lightning rod with all this metal. [The Dispatch]