Retail growth in Morristown has included a new variety of food sources — and lunch has gone mobile (along with breakfast and dinner, in many instances).
There are a number of food trucks located throughout the city on any given day, vying for choice spots at local industries, shopping centers and other traffic-heavy locations.
Entrepreneurs Elana and Larry Boggess noticed the trend and researched their options before joining the expanding local wheeled foodservice sector, with what they refer to as their wienie wagon, operated under its official name: Appalachian Food Company & Catering.
“We decided a cart would be a better way to start out financially,” Elana said.
The decision to go into the business was based on pure economics.
“We both ended up losing our jobs,” Elana said. “Larry built the cart over the winter. We spent a good three or four months eating and cooking hot dogs to figure out the best way.”
The couple serves up all-beef dogs, cooked in beer and other secret ingredients then “griddle them up” onsite via a propane-powered Blackstone griddle. The dogs are cooked to temperature in ‘dirty dog water;’ and once they hit the griddle, the beer caramelizes them.
Once they got the dog preparation perfected, Elana and Larry developed other entrees, including sausages; freshly-prepared dog condiments that include Coca-Cola Onions (seasoned with brown sugar and spices), All-Beef Chili and Roasted Garlic Aioli; and sides like Appalachian Street Corn.
After compiling the menu, the next step was passing a health inspection and obtaining a business license.
“It seemed like a lot initially,” Elana said. “But to get legal and certified, you just follow the steps. Then we were at the point where we said, ‘now what do we do?’”
The couple had business cards made up and began visiting local retailers.
“We would introduce ourselves and say, ‘Hey, can we set up in your parking lot and serve lunch? ‘Typically, people are pretty excited to have a food cart or truck. It’s nice for their employees. Depending on the size of the facility, we try to feed the employees as a ‘Thank You’ to the company.”
The couple began setting up at local retailers like Big Lots in late February and it didn’t take long for them to find their business niche. They set up at companies, including SYKES and the two Koch Foods plants, then pre-griddle the dogs and hold them for the employees, who are given 30 minutes for lunch. They also set up at Walters State Community College.
“There is no driving and then eating super-fast for the employees. They can pick up their food quickly and then have time to enjoy it. The factories are really strict on the 30-min lunch time,” Elana said. Koch Foods actually contacted us. A lady from the HR department had eaten from the cart and thought it would be good for the employees. It’s morale-boosting for them.”
The cart is set up at SYKES every Tuesday and rotate between the Koch Foods plants on Wednesdays.
“We’re more and more popular each time we go,” Elana said.
The couple is working with M.A.T.S., to set up the cart in the nonprofit’s parking lot at least once a month.
“We want to give the staff a break, for dinner, and serve the residents. We believe strongly in giving back to the community and people who deserve it,” Elana said. “The people at M.A.T.S. are doing some really good things for families and children. We have a six-year-old daughter, so we want to support the organization. And the cart is something fun for people to see.”
Many first-time customers tell the couple they have never seen a real hot dog cart before. Elana has relatives in New Jersey and made many trips into New York City with her grandfather, where they would enjoy visiting carts there.
Starting out their new business in early spring this year, with its cold, rainy weather, was a challenge.
“We stuck it out,” Elana said. She referred to the Big Lots parking lot as a windy tundra — “The umbrella went flying; we lost a canopy,” she said.
One of their best marketing assets is Elana’s daughter, Violet’s, commentary. She often spends time at the cart.
“She tells everyone, ‘My mom makes the best hot dogs in the world,’” Elana said. “As a family unit, we bonded and stuck it out. Since then, it has become a lot more lucrative; we found our footing. Hopefully in a couple of years, we might have a food truck.”
So how does a man, who by trade is a railroad and auto technician, build his own hot dog cart?
“Larry is very hands on,” Elana said, “but he’s not a carpenter, by any means. We used a resource website: Ben Wilson Learn Hot Dogs. He’s out of Sevierville and he gives out a bunch of free information.”
Through the site, Larry and Elana joined a vendor group that assisted them in deciding what type of hot dogs they would sell and shared recipes and videos of setups. The vendors comment on their business days and help answer questions about how much to charge for products, how to prepare and sell 150 dogs in an hour, how to market and how to approach businesses about setting up on their properties. The couple bought the plans to build the cart from the website.
“The cart is made out of wood. A lot of people are baffled by that,” Elana said. “We used a marine-grade bar top epoxy coating. We tinted it pearl black, we thought it looked clean and sharp. It took two to three tries to complete it; we had to take it apart. It took about a month to build.”
The couple will in the future add a memorial plaque to the cart, in honor of Larry’s late mother who provided the financial backing to start the business.
“She allowed us to pursue our dream,” Elana said.
An entrepreneurial pursuit, even in an economically thriving city, is a leap of faith for all involved.
“It seemed really desolate there for a second, and then it all worked itself out,” Elana said. “We’re a new family. Larry and I were married in November. When Violet is not in school or with her dad, she’s out there with us. We make our own hours, but it shows her, ‘This is what we said we would do and now we are.’ We want to encourage her to go to college or start her own business.”
Elana, a former service advisor for the automotive industry, enjoys the social aspect of the business.
“I love meeting people; my favorite thing is getting to know people. We have the same lunch crowd at the factories. It’s fun. As a service advisor, I felt I was breaking people’s hearts. I’ve seen people cry, get angry; they just didn’t know what to do. Now I get to see people smile all day long, because everybody loves a hot dog.”
For updates about where Appalachian Food Service & Catering will be set up, like the business on Facebook.