A Typical Day in the Life of a Hot Dog Vendor
My work day starts late by many people’s standards. I generally leave my house around 8:00 am. I hitch my 6 foot Stand-In cart to my car and load it with the necessary supplies that I am allowed by the health authority to store at home.
These home stored supplies include candy bars, bags of chips, cans of soda pop, sugar packets, and the various paper and dry goods needed for food vending. These paper goods include take-away bags, hot dog wrappers, and take away boxes for french fries. Other dry goods stored at home include coffee cups (large and small) and plastic cutlery. I also fill my coolers with ice. After loading these and a quick walk around check of the cart, I head out for the day.
My first stop is at the Up Town Bakery Shop not far from where I live. There I pick up my daily supply of fresh buns. I get a mixture of 12 dozen hot dog buns, usually 5 dozen regular 6 inch buns, 4 dozen 8 inch jumbo buns, and 3 dozen cheese buns. I also pick up 4 dozen English Muffin buns for breakfast sandwiches. On Mondays and Fridays I get an extra dozen of each style of bun because they tend to be my busier days. It seems that people who often “brown bag it” do not pack a lunch on these two days and they often miss breakfast. It translates into extra business for me.
The next stop is at Jan’s Delicatessen which I use as my commissary. There I fill my water tanks with fresh water and I pick up my supply of meat and condiments. I usually get about 12 dozen precooked sausages including all beef regular, all beef Jumbo, some Garlic and usually a dozen veggie sausages for my customers that prefer those. My order also includes 4 dozen pre-cooked breakfast patties. I also pick up my standing order of chopped onions, frozen potato fries, coffee creamers, processed cheese slices, shredded cheese and sliced dill pickles. The commissary also prepares for me a selection of 4 dozen assorted pre-made sandwiches each individually wrapped.
I now head directly to the vending location where I park my cart. It is in an unused corner of a parking lot in an industrial park. The pavement is rough and uneven so I have to level the cart with my corner jacks and chock the wheels before I begin.
Business was slow when I first located here, but news soon spread that I was making very tasty sausages served on fresh buns and that my coffee was good. Clients come mainly from the surrounding businesses in the industrial park but I also catch some from passing traffic as my location is quite visible and on a corner of the two busiest streets.
I had a local commercial sign company install large colorful graphics of a hot dog, french fries, and a steaming coffee cup to the sides on my cart to advertise my product. I also visited every business in the area with fliers before I started to let them know about me. At first I was just serving the lunch hour crowd. After 2 months though, customers were asking me to start earlier with breakfast items as well.
I usually arrive at the vending location around 9:00 am. This gives me a good ½ hour to set up shop before the first customers that will start to dribble in around 9:30 when morning coffee breaks begin. I use that ½ hour well to do a quick clean, to start making coffee and then reheating the breakfast patties on the grill. I also load my coolers with ice and soft drink cans. My local health department does not allow a mobile food vendor to cook raw eggs, so the breakfast patties consist of an English muffin, a meat patty and a slice of process cheese. I provide ketchup and salt and pepper as condiments. I also sell bags of chips, candy bars and pre-made sandwiches at this time.
After an hour the morning rush subsides and I prepare for the noon hour rush. This involves a change of menu. I fill my condiment pans with chopped onions, shredded cheese, green relish, and sauer kraut. I fill my condiment pumps with fresh ketchup and mustard. I begin reheating a selection of sausages on the grill. I start up my deep frier for the french fries. I refill my 100 cup propane coffee maker.
At about 11:30 the noon hour rush begins. It lasts until about 1:30 when the last of the staggered lunch hours in the surrounding businesses ends. By this time I will have sold all my sandwiches, and most, if not all of my sausages. I will also have sold 60 french fry boxes and over 100 sodas.
The remainder of the day on location is spent cleaning up the cart and the food preparation equipment and putting away any unused product. Everything is carefully cleaned and sanitized. Trash in the surrounding area is picked up.
By 2:00pm or shortly thereafter I am ready to leave. I can not actually go straight home though. First I have to return to the commissary. There I will drain the water from my water tanks into the sanitary sewer at their facility as required by law. I will also leave with them any left over meat that is still frozen. Anything else must be discarded as it can not be carried over to the next day. I confirm with them my order for the next day.
On Monday and Thursday afternoons though, I also pick up other supplies as needed before going home. I use that time to pick up packaged food supplies at a big box store. These supplies include candy bars, sugar packets, plastic cutlery, potato chips, sodas, large jars of pickled condiments and so on.
As these do not require any refrigeration and are not considered potentially hazardous foods, I am allowed by the health department to store these at home in a special designated area. I have a small room in the house set aside for this purpose. I set it up with heavy duty shelving to keep these boxed items up off the floor as required by the local health authority.
On Tuesdays I also pick up a standing order of coins and small bills at the bank. This is used for the cash float to make change for customers. Tuesdays and Fridays I make my deposits.
Propane is another supply that I must watch carefully. All of my equipment is propane powered. I use the afternoons to refill my propane tanks as required at a nearby service station..
My last stop is for ice for the next day which I keep in a freezer at home in the storage room.
Depending on the day of the week, all of this means that I am back home generally between 3:00 and 4:00 pm. I unhitch my cart in the driveway and chock the wheels.
At that time I do a little accounting work. I file away my receipts for supplies purchased that day and record my sales for the day in a ledger. I find that doing this each day keeps the accounting aspect of the business very simple and easy. If I leave it for days or weeks it becomes a dreaded and monumental task. Things get missed and confusing after even a few days. Keeping all these various tasks small and well organized really reduces any stress and frustration often associated with a small business run from home.
The business has been a great experience for me. In the beginning there was some learning, some work to do to get off to a good start and a lot of paperwork to do with the various levels of government. But now that the business is running it has become a real joy as well as a source of good steady income.