Dogging the competition

Local hot dog vendor challenges campus monopoly

WHAT UP, DOG? Crazy dog can be found parked in front of Meriam Library every day class is in session, rain or shine, and the signature 15-foot multi-colored picnic umbrella and chrome cart are hard to miss.

WHAT UP, DOG? Crazy dog can be found parked in front of Meriam Library every day class is in session, rain or shine, and the signature 15-foot multi-colored picnic umbrella and chrome cart are hard to miss.

Hot doggin': According to publicity from the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, the term “hot dog” was first used in the 1890s on college campuses, where undergraduates counted on the cheap eats for sustenance.

John Geiger’s seemingly simple job of peddling hot dogs to hungry Chico State University students and staffers has turned into an intriguing case study of campus politics.

Although Geiger’s Crazy Dog cart is now doing a booming business at its post across Warner Street from the Meriam Library, it was a bit of a battle getting the Associated Students to recognize his right to set up shop there and compete with the campus food monopoly.

“The [A.S.] came and measured to make sure we weren’t on campus property, and they sent the university police out a couple times to try to chase us away the first month we were here,” Geiger said.

After researching the spot for six months prior to opening, he found the sidewalk spot where Crazy Dog eventually located is city property, even though the state-owned university campus surrounds it. So he has city and county permits but does not need campus permission to be there, Geiger said.

“Last summer, when we moved under a tree to be in the shade, which was technically campus property, the campus police came out again and made us move back to the sidewalk,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. We’re just happy to be here. We just had to get an extra umbrella.”

The A.S. runs several businesses on campus, including all of the food services, and uses student fees to help do that.

David Buckley, general manager of the A.S., did not return the News & Review’s calls for comment. One of his assistants, Karen Bang, said she knew about the Crazy Dog situation but that the A.S. would not talk publicly about it.

However, Lt. Kelly Clark of the University Police Department confirmed that the A.S. had called UPD about vendors near campus. “Associated Students may have complained that they were on the campus,” he said.

“We check to make sure they have a permit,” Clark added, and as for Crazy Dog, “he’s been checked by us a couple of times and he’s never been found in violation as far as we can tell.”

Geiger would rather peddle hot dogs than politics and doesn’t seem to be upset—just curious—about the Associated Students’ attempts to maintain a monopoly on campus.

Geiger, a Chico State graduate, came here in 1986 to major in liberal studies, but while studying for his degree he volunteered in a classroom and realized he didn’t have the patience for teaching. After graduating in 1992, instead of heading to school, he decided to continue a vending business he had started while in college.

For a few years he ran his vending machine business, running pinball machines and other games in local pizza parlors. Then a close friend suggested he get a hot dog cart.

He took his friend’s advice, naming the stand Crazy Dog.

“I only missed three days last semester,” Geiger said. “I think that’s less than most students.”

He said the food is reasonable for students living on a budget.

“We’ve added a couple things to the menu since we first started, like the veggie dog, but we try to keep it simple,” he said.

Geiger has already considered expanding, but Crazy Dog is a family business owned by Geiger and his wife, Ethel, and they want to keep it small.

But despite their decision to keep things small, the vending stand business seems to be a growing market in Chico.

Now approaching its two-year anniversary in its campus location, Crazy Dog is an established business. The hot dog stand seems to have found a place in students’ hearts—or at least their stomachs.

“When we opened two years ago, there were only four other [cart] vendors in town,” Geiger said, and now there are 11 that he knows of, serving everything from hot dogs to gourmet coffee. He also sells coffee, muffins and donuts in the morning.

“I think it’s all a natural progression, and things tend to grow in spurts,” Geiger said. But he hasn’t really felt the competition, even from the other two new vendors near campus, located behind Holt Hall.

“I think we’ve got a better product and are more reliable about being here every day,” he said.

As for competing with the A.S.'s new Bell Memorial Union, Geiger said, “We’re just going to have to wait and see. We’re lucky because it looks like they’re going in an upscale direction and their prices are much higher than ours.”

Geiger said he and his wife are making a good living serving up hot dogs to students and staff, despite the initial cold shoulder from the campus.

“At first, people seemed shocked we were here, and some thought we were an eyesore on campus, but that didn’t last long. We’re pretty much a campus fixture now,” he said.

“We got some negative feedback, but now everybody loves us,” Geiger said. “A lot of people are happy we are here, and it’s nice being appreciated.”

Adding her favorite toppings onto a Crazy Dog, Patti Chaplin, a Chico State employee in the admissions office, said she’s a regular customer and eats there at least once a week when schools in session.

“It works out great for me because I can run out here quick and not be away from the desk,” she said. “I like the convenience of it. They have everything I would want, and their prices are good.”

Amber Robinson, 21, a student majoring in interior design, said she heard about Crazy Dog from her boyfriend, adding that the cart serves up the best hot dog she’s ever had.

“They taste the same every time I go, always fresh, always hot,” she said.

“My favorite is the spicy polish dog, but the polish dog is too big for every day, so I usually just go with the Crazy Dog because it’s not that big, but filling,” Robinson said.

“I eat there almost every day during the summer on my break from working at the library, but I only go two or three times a week when school is in, usually after classes when I’m on my way home," she said. "They have good service, and they’re so friendly."