Hot dog heaven
Chico’s abundance of hot dog carts feeds starving student snackers
Its smell is unmistakable: The juicy aroma thickens the surrounding air with meaty sweetness. Down its sweating sides are globs of red and yellow, maybe a little crunchy green too, and it lies gently, glistening with goodness, in a soft, white, flour-based pillow. It’s the hot dog, and it’s everywhere: baseball games, barbeques, concession stands, all over Chico.
In the last five years, Chico’s hot-dog-vending business has plumped in number. Vendors can be seen downtown, on campus, in parking lots—even roaming the city in search of the hungry and the short on cash.
Some mysteries of the hot dog, such as why hot dogs are sold in packs of eight and buns in bags of 10, and what animals’ leftover parts are really in there, may never be answered. Be we are able to offer a peek at the other side of the cart and introduce readers to some of the town’s best-placed hawkers of hot dogs.
The Dog House
As the newest dog dealer in Chico, Chuck Averill’s bright yellow- and red- trimmed “Dog House” has been standing in the parking lot of Safeway on Nord Avenue for only one month. The “small but efficient” stationary house has postings of “Beware of dog,” and four plastic tables with six matching chairs are plopped around the cleared space for a parking lot lunch. Sitting for these dogs may be recommended, since those who eat on the run have often wasted their energy.
"[Some customers] will reach the end of the parking lot, and they’ll come back and have a second one right away,” Averill said.
The dogs’ popularity may be because of the Dog House’s specialty menu, which includes the “Spicy Hawaiian,” with spicy mustard, barbecue sauce, made-from-scratch pineapple chipotle salsa and light onion, and the “Seattle Special,” which is an Italian hot sausage with homemade tomato salsa, barbecue sauce, spicy mustard and cheddar cheese. It may also be because of the preparation, which is unlike any in Chico.
The Dog House’s dogs are kept in a steam table, and as they’re ordered they’re thrown on a charcoal grill and blackened up.
“The grill gives them a lot of flavor,” Averill said. “And it’s also healthier because the fat drips off in the heat.”
On the menu also is the “Skinny Dog,” which is a 97-percent fat-free chicken sausage, and Averill claims “you won’t find a better chili dog.”
Averill owns five hot dog stands in Seattle. After moving to Chico and reuniting with a former employee, Julie Harvey, who is one of four owners, the two embarked on a mission to bring their dog business to this town. The Dog House is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and from noon to 7 p.m. on Sundays. Phone orders are welcome at 894-DOG1
John Geiger stands with a hot dog hat on his head at 7 a.m. every day, just as he has done for the last three years. (His wife and business partner Ethel will join him at around 11 a.m.) He rolls out his cart carrying hot dogs and buns, sodas, coffee, muffins and chips (he used to sell cigarettes, too, but university officials complained and he agreed to stop selling them a month ago) to the designated spot and waits.
Set up near the Meriam Library on the Chico State University campus, the Geigers’ spot was once the topic of controversy, as employees of the Associated Students, worried that he was taking business from campus eateries, got out the measuring tools to confirm, as Geiger had researched before setting up shop, that the stand was on city land.
It’s not long before the customers start lining up at the landmark hot dog stand.
“Our biggest seller is the Crazy Dog, but I think that’s just because it’s the cheapest,” said Geiger, as he wedged a boiled hot dog in a bun and wrapped it in a safety-net napkin. There are also Spicy, Polish and Tofu dogs. He said the Tofu Dogs don’t really sell that well, “but the vegetarians appreciate it.”
Geiger said he enjoys the student crowd, as he himself graduated from Chico State in 1992 with a degree in liberal studies.
He has noted some differences among his clientele. “More men than women [buy hot dogs],” said Geiger. Also, usually at the 7 a.m. hour Geiger is busy selling coffee and muffins, but he has noticed that “foreign exchange students buy dogs in the mornings; it’s a cultural thing.”
Geiger said the best part about his job is “making people happy, and people get happy when they have something good to eat. … It’s also nice to be outdoors, unless it’s really windy.”
The Crazy Dog cart can be found every school day, rain or shine, at his spot facing Warner Street from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Downtowners know him as Scrappy Dog, the formal title given to Jacob Boehm, who’s been serving the late shift for three years. The Scrappy Dog cart has been in business since 1990, when Boehm’s close friend, Scott Bainister, from whom he took it over, first rolled it onto the street and started selling.
Bainister was the pioneer of late-night downtown snacking, and it was he who convinced the city five years ago to extend the soliciting hour until 2:30 a.m. “Then Pizza Face and Main St. Pizza came in,” Boehm said. “Before, it was just Scrappy Dog. There would be no vending without Scott.”
Boehm, a Butte College automotive student, has plans of finishing school in May 2003 and opening his own automotive/hot dog store. He said he’d name it the “Dog & Smog.” But until then he’s enjoying the nightlife.
“It’s fun seeing people all loosened up and having a good time and the randomness of downtown. Right when it starts getting repetitive, that’s when it goes off the wall.”
Because he’s “been there long enough and give[s] a good price,” Boehm has made some loyal customers. Once, when a new cart came downtown, Boehm’s customers trashed the new cart and stood in the Scrappy spot for their usual dogs.
“People know you don’t mess with Scrappy Dog,” Boehm said.
Scrappy’s dogs are turkey dogs, something many don’t know but don’t really care when they find out. He also sells tofu, polish and hot links and says he probably has the largest condiment menu around: ketchup, mustard, Sierra Nevada Porter mustard, sauerkraut, mayonnaise, onions, dill and sweet relish, Tapatio and Bullseye.
“I like mustard and onions on my hot links,” Boehm said. “That’s some good stuff.”
Scrappy can be found walking his dog downtown in front of Mr. Lucky or Madison Bear Garden between 11 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. On sale also are Scrappy Dog T-Shirts for $10.
Mama Pooh is a family act. Dean and Judy “the Pooh” Halladay started the hot dog/Hawaiian shaved ice cart five years ago. They were in a financial jam to provide their seven children, ages 12 to 32, with an opportunity to work.
“We never gave them allowance. We asked, ‘How many hours are you willing to work?'” Dean said. “It’s better than working for someone else who just gives a few pennies.” However, their pay is minimum wage too.
The cart, which takes four hours to set up, is one of three owned by the Halladays. Dean built one himself, though it’s not the one usually used to carry the assortment of foods sold by Mama Pooh. Tri-tip sandwiches, hot dogs, snow cones, nachos, corn dogs, churros and pretzels are also part of the gig.
But the Halladay family doesn’t waste their time. Since Dean teaches religion at the Latter-day Saints Church, the cart is taken only to events that have “promise with lots of people” and its sells certain items, such as churros and pretzels, only in areas where they will sell well.
There are no hours of operation on Sundays, because as Dean said, “Sunday is our church day.”
Mama Pooh’s dinner cart is at the Thursday Night Market, by scheduling and anywhere else there is a large crowd.
The Hungry Hound
Peter Bridge is very excited about his new business. The semester-old Hungry Hound cart in front of Holt Hall on the Chico State campus has given this 2000 Chico State graduate income to support his wife and baby and a great working environment in the meantime.
“I have the greatest customers in the world, the students, faculty and staff. And right now the leaves are falling like Chico snow; it’s beautiful,” Bridge said. Originally from Michigan, where he says they don’t use as many mayonnaise packets as on this campus, but a Chico resident since 1975, Peter earned his bachelor’s degree in social sciences and has been accepted to the credential program, where he will get certified to teach English and social science in middle school. But for now he’s enjoying the job and even inspiring others to try it.
“At least one person a week says, ‘Hey this looks cool,'” Bridge said. Then when he starts telling them about the permits needed and the process to go through, he said they say, “I just thought you bought a cart and sold hot dogs,” and leave.
But Bridge wouldn’t have minded the competition; in fact he said there is none.
“It’s not a dog-eat-dog world. There are plenty of customers for all of us. … But I’ve got the Hungry Hound. It’s a quarter pound on a hoagie roll. It stands alone,” Bridge said.
Knowing the product helps sell the product, which is why on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays Bridge indulges in a hot link with onion and spicy mustard, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the days he works out, he chooses the veggie that has 17 grams of protein and no fat, with the works.
The Hungry Hound serves growling stomachs from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays in front of Holt Hall but may not be doing so very much longer, as Bridge is weighing the option of full-time school.
Two more hot dog vendors, Crazy Eric and The Hungry Hippie, could not be found for comment. It is said that Crazy Eric’s Chicago style dogs are at the Thursday Night Market.
The Hungry Hippie, a retired logger and hippie, is said to be downtown by the old Confetti Store (Now Peet’s Coffee) or in the parking lot of Home Depot. Upon investigation, however, he was found at neither location.
Maybe the mystique behind hot dogs and their vendors continues a little further, but one thing is for sure, Chico’s got hot dogs here!