The wisdom of the Weiner Man
Hermann Hesse’s classic novel Siddartha follows a man on his lifelong quest for enlightenment. First he gives everything up, then becomes a wealthy and successful businessman, and eventually achieves his goal living a simpler life ferrying people across a river.
There’s a touch of Hesse’s allegorical Buddha in Joe Gormley, a man with a generous and open demeanor coupled with a wealth of worldly knowledge he’s happy to share with anyone who stops to talk and listen. And many do—Gormley has become a father confessor, consigliere-type figure to the drunks, pedicabbers, taxi drivers and others populating downtown after dark. But spiritual sustenance is secondary to the physical sustenance he delivers, for Gormley is no Zen master. He’s the Weiner Man.
Several nights a week, Gormley sets up his cart in various locations downtown to sling delectable quarter-pound, all-beef hot dogs, Polish sausages and Louisiana hot links into the hands and mouths of his eager customers. Each is delivered with some friendly banter (often peppered with puns you might expect from a guy called the Weiner Man) and a heartfelt “Thank you for your business.”
“I worked in the mortgage-banking industry for 34 years before this,” said Gormley, a Rhode Island native who also did a short stint playing semi-pro hockey. “But my family has been in the Italian-restaurant business for almost 50 years, and I worked in that industry a long time before. I wanted to get back to my first love, so here I am working on the street.”
Gormley partially credits the business savvy gained from his past life as a banker with his success: “I run this cart just like I would a big business. I keep things airtight, and I deliver a quality product, which is primary. I try to interact with my customers, the students and surrounding businesses as much as possible. I want people to walk away with a good experience so hopefully they’ll come back and bring their friends.”
Gormley has been running the Weiner Man cart about a year, and came to Chico three years ago at the behest of his son Scott, who runs his own cart—Scooter Dogs—selling hot dogs and Italian ices.
“After I retired he said, ‘I gotta good part-time job up here if you want it,’” explained the elder Gormley, who was living in San Clemente at the time. The Weiner Man said he’d been in love with the area and going back and forth since his son graduated from Chico State in 2002. “So I came on up and found myself working 80 hours a week.”
In addition to his nighttime hours, the Weiner Man sets up off Highway 99 at Entler Avenue (next to Wood Brothers Carpet) during the daytime to catch the lunch crowd, and when he’s not working for himself, he helps out his son’s business, as does his daughter Erin.
“We go where the business is, and we work upwards of 16- to 18-hour days,” Gormley said. “A lot of people get into this and fail, because they think they’ll come out here a few hours a week, make a bunch of money and be done, but it simply doesn’t work that way.”
Strong work ethic and good business sense aside, Gormley knows real success boils down to the quality of product. In addition to the standard dog menu, Gormley also keeps vegetarian options on hand and has specialty sandwiches some nights, such as teriyaki chicken or homemade meatball sandwiches (“The Weiner Man’s got some tasty balls, too,” he quips).
Though I’ve yet to sample Weiner Man’s savory balls, I can attest to the quality of his wieners, which I like best with a piece of bacon, horseradish and honey mustard. Hit him up for some of the extra-special sweet, spicy chili sauce he refers to as his “special reserve,” or better yet entrust your wiener to his capable hands, and you’re guaranteed to walk away satisfied.
“There are a few other guys out here on the streets,” said Gormley, “but people are catching on where to get the good stuff, and that’s a beautiful thing.”