Folio Weekly: Around here you're known as the Hot Dog Lady.
Jennifer Boston: Or Hot Dog Jen. I answer to both. The little kids call me the Hot Dog Lady; all the adult kids call me Hot Dog Jen.
How long have you been doing this?
Since 1998. Before that, I was a bartender for 20 years.
How did you get the idea to sell hot dogs?
Years ago I'd seen a hot dog stand, it was probably 20 years ago maybe, and we had gone Downtown and I saw a hot dog vendor, the only one, never seen him before and never saw him again, and I thought, "Man, I'd love a job like that. I can wear a tank top, cut-offs and flip-flops." And about 10 or 11 years later, that's what I decided to do.
What's a typical day like for you?
I get up early in the morning, I go to my commissary and start prepping stuff, dicing onions and doing slaws and cheeses and just sorta get ready for the day, getting all my hot dog stuff together. I load up my cart, make sure my chips and sodas are loaded. It's basically the same process at night, except in greater quantity. I'm out here from 10 to 4 Monday through Friday, and out at night from 9:30 p.m. to 3 or 4 in
Are you a morning or night person?
You know, now after doing this for 15 years, I'm more of a morning person, but I'm so conditioned for the nights.
When are you most busy?
The nights are more lucrative. I'd rather give up the days than
the nights. Summer is my slowest time of year. Spring and fall are
my busiest seasons.
Do you have regular customers?
Oh yeah, I've watched them grow up. A lot of my customers, I had them in high school and now they're married and have their own kids. There are people I used to wait on as kids, and now they have their own family. It's an interesting, cool journey.
How do you decide where to set up shop?
I go and watch. I'll watch the flow for two weeks, what time they get busy, what time people are filtering out. This is basically a numbers game. The more you have, the more you're gonna sell. If you go somewhere where only 100 people are coming out, you're not going to make a lot of money. Why go there when I could go to a place that has 600 people?
How many carts do you own?
Two. I use one and have a backup. And sometimes I think about doing a trailer and taking it to festivals and stuff, but I don't want a
food truck. I would much rather have an open-air trailer; they're a lot more inviting.
Has it ever crossed your mind to stop selling hot dogs and start doing something else?
Absolutely. But I think we all get like that no matter what it is we do. But then I stop and think about it: I like being outside, I like the sun, I like being my own boss. And I don't wanna be inside, I don't like normality. This is abnormal.
Does the city inspect you?
When I first started, we were inspected three or four times a year, and that's dropped through the years. Now we're scheduled to have two inspections a year, and when I say scheduled, it means they can happen at any time, we just know how many times.
What are they looking for?
They look for temperatures, running water, making sure licenses are up to date, cleanliness and sanitary stuff, and to make sure I'm not grilling burgers.
You can't grill burgers?
I'm open-air. If you have a food truck you can, because you're enclosed. They're worried about bacteria.
What's the most unusual hot dog you've ever been asked to make?
None of them are unusual to me anymore. Sometimes people want a hot dog without a hot dog but still have all the same stuff in the bun because they're vegetarian.
Do customers ever come up with requests for new ingredients?
Sometimes, yeah. I have a lot of people ask for potato sticks. I guess in South America they do that a lot. I do have a lot of people ask me for cream cheese, which I think I'm gonna add that. I guess in Seattle they do a bacon, green onion and cream cheese dog. I did research that one.
Do you have belligerent customers at night?
They're not belligerent; they're drunk. I deal with it by being
their mom. [Laughs.] I take a mom attitude, and they're all the age
of my son anyway.
What do you eat on your hot dog?
My regular go-to if I want fast and comfort is mustard and ketchup. I like the other stuff, but if I just want a hot dog, I want mustard and ketchup. Lots of it, like dripping off the bun.