hot dog

Crain’s Chicago Business reports on Hot Dog University, run by the Vienna Beef Ltd. from their North Side headquarters.  The combination of high unemployment, the increased buzz being received by street food vendors, and the opportunity to be your own boss, has led to an increase of 30% in students attending Hot Dog U, a two day crash course in operating a hot dog cart.

Among the lessons being taught are “Always dress the dog, and not the bun”, the proper technique for shaking water off a dog (don’t get any on the bun), and how to apply condiments the Chicago way: yellow mustard, pickle relish, chopped onion, tomato wedges, pickle spear, sport peppers and a sprinkle of celery salt.  Also, steaming the bun is “a science” aimed at achieving a “pillowy-soft” consistency, and a properly cooked hot dog “snaps” when bitten, but will split or crack if left in water too long.  “It’s a business of minute details,” Mr. Reitman says, a hot dog lover who grew up on Chicago’s West Side, who started teaching people how to operate hot dog carts four years ago in Milwaukee and joined Vienna as its “professor of hot dogs” in 2009.

Vienna charges $699 for a cart class and $1,499 for one on how to run a stand.  But the company provides food and merchandise rebates equal to the tuition cost for graduates who sell Vienna dogs.  A cart requires an investment of $3,000 to $6,000, depending on the size and design. A stand, which is a permanent structure, requires $100,000 or more.  Mr. Reitman says a well-run cart can sell 100 hot dogs in a four-hour lunch period and reap an annual profit of more than $50,000.

As with most food businesses, success boils down to location. Mr. Reitman advises his charges to choose a regular spot with high visibility, plenty of foot traffic, no competition and ample parking. Proximity to trash cans and public restrooms (“for your customers and yourself”) is also critical.  Spots outside bars in college towns can be lucrative: “If you’re up for some late nights, a hot dog is a popular option when leaving the bar.”  In the end, it’s a numbers game, he says. “You need thousands of people to walk by in order to sell hundreds of hot dogs.” [Chicago Business]

That’s why street food works so well in New York – the vast amount of people walking by many different locations. Another way to get attention is the Willy Dog cart.

'The Professor" and his students
‘The Professor” and his students