Hot-dog therapy

Mike Pallas

Photo By Larry Dalton

After a night out on the town, finding a way to satisfy that late-night hunger can prove tricky. Enter Mike Pallas. A communications and psychology major at the University of California, Davis, Pallas runs The Big Wiener, a late-night hot-dog cart set up outside the G Street Pub in Davis on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. For the late-night partier, Pallas’ hot dogs are a tasty godsend. For Pallas, it’s a way to help put himself through school and a real-world lesson in small-business practices.

How did you come up with the idea for a late-night hot-dog cart?

Actually, it was a buddy of mine, Colin, who came up with the idea. It really started as one of those things where you’re walking out of a bar, and you think, “Man, you know what would be really good right now is a hot dog.” So, Colin got a cart and started doing it every once in a while. He moved to Hawaii, and I acquired the cart from him. I decided to take it a step further by making it more of a regular kind of thing.

What do you sell, and what do you charge?

We’ve got all-beef hot dogs, jumbo dogs, turkey dogs, Polish sausages, hot links and tofu dogs. A little bit of everything. An all-beef dog, a turkey dog or a tofu dog is $2 each, and the sausages are $3. We don’t have the ballpark prices. I’m just trying to make it profitable for myself but also affordable for people coming by. We have a motto down there that’s on the sign that hangs on the cart. It says, “Are you drunk, hungry or broke? Come enjoy a big wiener.”

Why The Big Wiener?

It’s just one of those things that kind of sticks in your head. People walk by and see The Big Wiener, and they’re usually a little drunk, so they’ll laugh at it. But later on, when they think of food, they’ll think of The Big Wiener. We try to create a good time for the people that are out.

What kind of response have you gotten being out there?

People love the hot-dog man. People love the hot-dog cart and that’s it out there. I try and get it out rain or shine, and people really appreciate that. Every once in a while, you’ll get a few rude, drunk people, and I have to tell them to leave, but the G Street Pub has been great to me. I’ve gotten to be pretty good with all the bouncers and the people that work at G Street. I keep them fed, and, if I need any help, they’ve got my back.

Is there a lot of money to be made selling hot dogs?

Yeah, there definitely is. Just like in any business, you have to be careful with how you spend your money and what products you buy. But I think the worst night I ever had was a Thursday night where I made $65. On my best night ever, I brought in around $270 in a three-hour window.

Does some of this money go toward putting yourself through school?

Yeah, definitely, especially with all the grilling tuition fees we have. With Arnold socking it to us, it’s nice to have some extra money to put toward school.

What are you studying at UC Davis?

I’m a double major in communications and psychology with a minor in agricultural economics.

Being a communications and psychology major must play right into the late-night hot-dog-selling business, right?

Definitely. What I’ve learned is that people want to talk. Most of the time, it seems like the best thing to do is just listen. People that want to share their problems don’t always want a solution, but they want to vent what they have on their chest. There’s always potential in making anyone a customer just by being nice and saying hello and goodbye to people. I don’t listen just because I want to make those people into a customer, but because I consider myself a nice guy. Sometimes, people will come up to you, and I’ll give them what I call hot-dog therapy. A girl came up to me the other day and started talking to me about her boyfriend in Santa Barbara and if she should move to the East Coast. I just gave her a little hot-dog therapy, and that was that.

What’s going to happen to The Big Wiener when you graduate?

Hopefully, by then, I’ll have more carts operating, and I’ll be able to find someone that’s as dedicated as I’ve been to it, that will go out there two or three nights a week and sell hot dogs. It’s all about good people. That’s kind of the persona of the hot-dog man. But it’s not just about selling hot dogs to make money. It’s learning about people, learning about small business, learning about how to handle a business and, hopefully, growing that business into something bigger.