How to Buy a Hot Dog Stand

No matter if they're franks or brats, kielbasa or linguic,a, the wiener is a winner. Owning a hot dog stand may especially appeal to the entrepreneur who can't fathom a desk job. But there's a good deal more involved than boiling the water and slathering on the mustard.

Check with the city to see if hot dog stands are allowed. Some communities have health ordinances that put the kibosh on them.

Build a financial model for your hot dog stand. Spy on other vendors to see how many hot dogs they sell, and see how much food they throw out at the end of the day. Separate your variable costs, which increase with each sale (such as hot dogs, napkins and condiments) and your fixed costs, which you have to pay even if you sell nothing (equipment, permits, electricity and gas). From this calculate the number of sales you have to make to break even. Can you do it?

Sign up for a course on food handling, which your county likely hosts once a month. You may be required to prove attendance before the health department will green-light your plans.

Find a location. Again, check with your city. Some communities require that you operate in a private location, such as on the premises of a business that allows you to be there. Identify a busy street with few food options, or a large business with hungry employees. Factor in the tastes and demographics of the neighborhood when designing your menu.

Look into the health code requirements. Your cart may be required to have hot and cold water and a certain number of wash sinks. Bring pictures or schematics of your hot dog stand to your local health department for approval.

Buy the equipment you need, including the cart, coolers, foodhandling gear, cooking equipment and other necessities, at a restaurant supply store. Costs vary, but expect to pay from $6,000 to $8,000 for a new cart, half that or less for a used model. Also, look into leasing equipment, which requires less capital up front.

Get both a seller's permit and a reseller's permit. These are easy and inexpensive to obtain from city hall.

Buy your supplies (see How to Select Meat). Shop around for the best prices and tastiest product. Check out restaurant supply stores and bulk warehouses. Don't overlook your local grocery store, particularly if your stocking needs are modest.

Research inventory and stock level requirements. Food businesses lose tremendous amounts of money due to bad ordering and spoilage. Plan your inventory to have a minimal amount on hand at any time (which also lowers your inventory carrying costs).


  • Be consistent. If you feature a certain hot dog or soda, stay with it. Customers like that kind of predictability. Don't skimp on the condiments. Offer everything from mustard to jalapen~os. If there are regional tastes where you live, make sure you cover them as well.

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