A frank, honest living

Lunch: Hot dog vendors are springing up to fill the void of cheap -- and fun -- food for the growing suburban work force.

June 08, 1999|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

From the back of a shiny silver cart on a suburban Baltimore County road, Charlie Wiseman serves up all sizes of hot, plump dogs with a ready joke, some mustard, some ketchup and a whole lot of relish.

Wiseman is the Timonium "Hot Dog Guy." The guy who can sell you lunch for less than five bucks, easy. The guy who recognized years ago that more and more people who live in Baltimore County also work there and 100,000 more commute there every day, and so well, somebody has to feed them.

Wiseman became that somebody when he got tired of toiling as a photocopy machine serviceman and a manager for someone else's bar. Now, the burly, suntanned 51-year-old can be spotted in an industrial park hawking his dogs to a steady stream of hungry workers that would make any city vendor green with envy.

"I do all right. I'll never be rich," said Wiseman, who also does furniture repair work on the side and whose wife is a county police detective, on a recent sunny afternoon on Deereco Road.

"But I knew I made the right choice when I came out here April 18, 1989, and sold out of everything I brought that day. I've had so many people tell me that I've got the kind of job they've always wanted, but they never had the nerve to do," he said.

It seems natural to find food vendors around Baltimore's ballpark or Manhattan's tourist-filled streets. But Towson, the Baltimore County seat of government, has three or four vendors at intersections near the courthouse and government buildings.

"Why the suburbs? The permits are less expensive in the county and they don't hassle you about where you can sit and do business," Wiseman explained. "Besides, there's less competition."

It might seem that way, but according to the county Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management about 55 licensed hot dog carts work in the county. Most pop up during the summer near swimming pools without concession stands, construction sites or county-owned golf courses.

"In the last 19 years I've been here, we average 20 to 30 food vendors a year," said Yvonne DeLoatch, supervisor of the department's food protection and health program. The program's workers are responsible for inspecting vendors.

"Baltimore County has always had industrial parks, so there's a need for them. However, there are only some hard-core, all-year-rounders," DeLoatch said.

Wiseman is one of those few. Over the years, he's inspired others to follow in his footsteps.

A growing business

Jay Buchanan opened a hot dog truck about a month ago near Golden Ring Mall, between Rosedale and Middle River.

"Traffic patterns are growing in the county," said Buchanan, 42, of Cub Hill who depends on famished workers from Rossville Industrial Park. "People got to eat. You can't retire on this, but it's a good part-time job."

Ken Canterbery's hot dog cart is practically an institution outside the Dundalk post office, and a woman has been spotted selling wieners in Halethorpe. Another hot dog disciple gave up his day job at a nearby Timonium business park and opened a cart on Falls Road after visiting Wiseman several times for lunch.

Wiseman's clientele report that a Howard County hot dog vendor has opened shop somewhere in the planned community of Columbia, too.

The counties might be better known for their quaint roadside flower markets, snowball stands or fruit and vegetable carts. But the growing number of businesses bringing jobs to places such as Baltimore County means that a city staple such as the hot dog vendor can make a whole lot of cents in the suburbs.

Profit margin

Wiseman bought his cart for $2,800, got a county huckster permit for $140 and spent $700 for supplies. He said he makes about 66 cents profit from each dollar after subtracting the money for supplies.

Selling from 14 to 18 dozen dogs a day, Wiseman said he easily clears about 3,700 wieners a month -- not counting the kielbasa, jumbo dogs, barbecue, Italian sausages with onions and green peppers, sodas, chips and cookies he also peddles.

He's no mailman, though: don't expect him in rainy weather or blizzards.

"It's fun, the food is inexpensive and it tastes good," said Susan Cremen, a head hunter in Timonium Corporate Center who has been a loyal customer for four years.

Steve Mainer discovered Wiseman's cart some time ago while driving to Timonium to handle four jobs for his Alexandria-based air-conditioning company.

Said Mainer, waving good-bye to Wiseman, "It was kind of weird to see a hot dog cart around here, but where else can you get two hot dogs and a soda for three bucks? Those fast-food places charge you at least $4 or more."

Diverse, happy clientele

Many of Wiseman's customers are regulars, but others aren't. Some are on their way to the Park-and-Ride. Some are visiting one of the many office buildings nearby. Some are truck drivers making deliveries to places such as Aireco Supply Inc., KD Kitchen Distributors of Maryland and M.A.B. Paints. Others are harried mothers driving minivans loaded with ravenous children.

Some who recognize Wiseman honk. Some wave. Some yell, "Hey, Hot Dog Guy!"

For those he recognizes, Wiseman is ever ready with his tongs. By the time Joseph Troch parks his blue Chevy Caprice, Wiseman has a barbecue sandwich in wax paper sitting in a paper bag waiting for him.

"I was driving by one day, and he threw some rocks in the road and said, `How about buying a hot dog?' So I said, `OK'," joked Troch, 70, who lives in nearby Mays Chapel, off Padonia Road. "I've been coming for two or more years now. He's a pretty sharp guy."

Pub Date: 6/08/99

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