Sunday, August 26, 2012

The True Story Of Greensboro Hotdog Carts

With all the talk about food trucks in downtown Greensboro I thought it about time I told the story about hotdog carts came to be in Greensboro.

When I was growing up in Greensboro there were no portable vendors of ready to eat foods unless you count ice cream trucks and the occasional peddler of apples and peaches such as my father sometimes did. Along about 30 years ago 25 years ago I met a young woman working in who worked in a strip club across the street from 4 Seasons on High Point Road. That club has since been demolished to make way for a motel. Pushing 30 and knowing she only had a few good years left at her current trade she remembered growing up in New York City where hot dog vendors abound. She had a dream.

Now you can say what you like about strippers but those with several years under their garters understand full well the art and science of sales. And customer service... Most of you so called customer service types are clueless until you've seen a top notch dancer in action. And I'm not talking about anything illegal so get that out of your heads.

Naively, my young friend called New York, put a hot dog cart on her credit card and had it shipped to Greensboro at great personal expense and many months of credit card payments. It was only after the cart arrived that she went downtown to get a privilege license and was told by the City of Greensboro that hotdog carts would never be allowed in Greensboro. Feeling she had been wronged for trying to pull herself up by her garter straps and start what any of us would now agree is a better life than what she was living then, she hired a lawyer and sued the City to insure her right to work as is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America.

Local restauranteurs were outraged! They banded together not only downtown all over town in fear that 1 stripper with a hot dog cart might put them out of business. Okay, so they were really fearing that lots of strippers with hotdog carts would put them all out of business but as you can all see they remain in business. The local restauranteurs hired their own law dogs to assist the City's law dogs and together they gnawed at the stripper's hotdogs. All 99 pounds of her.

In the end the City of Greensboro settled out of court with a city ordinance that allowed hotdog carts. But, as are most things Greensboro, the ordnance came with an interesting twist that I suspect still stands today. In order to operate a hotdog cart in Greensboro you must first meet one of two criteria:
1. Own an existing restaurant.
2. Arrange to pay the owner of an existing Greensboro restaurant to sponsor your hotdog cart and store it inside the restaurant each night.

Option 2 usually entails buying all your food and supplies from your sponsoring restaurant instead of cheaper grocery stores or restaurant suppliers.

My friend won the right to sell hotdogs in Greensboro but the legal expenses bankrupted her. She was unable to negotiate rates with any local restaurant owner that would allow her to do business in Greensboro. Friends and family took up a collection to crate and ship the hotdog cart to her mother's home in Brooklyn because it wouldn't fit in her Honda. Last I heard the cost of a privilege license in Brooklyn cost her less than Greensboro charges and she no longer undresses to make her sales quotas.

And they wonder why the entrepreneurial types don't stay here.

As an aside, I noticed the other day that some of Greensboro's downtown hotdog vendors are selling Nathan's Hotdogs and wondered if Nathan's might be the owner or sponsor of the hotdog carts. Could it be possible that downtown hotdog sales are being used to help a nationwide chain out compete locally owned restaurants? If yes then I can only laugh as it is the bun our local restauranteurs baked.

UPDATE: The Rest Of The Story

I met this young woman in a Greensboro bar that didn't have strippers-- just beer. It was her night off. She started dancing at 17 to pay her way through UNCG. That's right, North Carolina does, or did allow 17 year old exotic dancers but the boys have to be 21 to get into the club. Like a lot of dancers she was hoping to meet men who didn't spend their time hanging out in strip clubs. Luckily for me, I had given up on strip clubs a few years before. After seeing her at the bar one night a week for several weeks she told me where she worked and explained that she tended bar 3 nights per week and danced 3 nights per week. She said it would make her happy if I came by the nights she was tending bar but she would be uncomfortable if I were to come on the nights she danced.

I honored her wishes for several months and listened as she told me of her then ongoing plight with the City of Greensboro.

I would usually get there shortly after she opened the bar and nurse one or two beers until about ten or eleven. She would always ask why I drank so little and left so early and I always told her my customers expected my trailer to bump their docks very early in the morning. She liked the fact that I took my job seriously and never missed a day at work.I never saw her dance, mostly I saw her eyes. I never kissed her lips but sometimes when she served me her hand would linger on mine until someone looked our way. I was beginning to think she was interested in me. I knew I was interested in her but having always been shy with women and newly divorced I never got around to taking the next step before Greensboro ran her away.

The other strippers in the bar all had names like Lexus, Mercedes, Porshe and Ferrarie. And some of them managed to marry into Greensboro's elite. I'll leave it to you to wonder who they are. For now. Let's just say, when the only job on your resume is exotic dancer the only way up in Greensboro is to marry big or get out of town.

UPDATE 2: In defense of Tony Wilkins, he left his smart ass comment below before I added my update above.