Area restaurants take the show on the road
Putting a hot dog truck on the road for catering events started out "just for fun," said John Pelligrino, co-owner of Super Duper Weenie in Fairfield.
Over the years, the idea evolved into much more than a whim for the business, which now has four catering trucks serving up hot dogs in Fairfield and Westchester counties and Long Island.
"It turned into its own business and it just keeps growing and growing," he said. "They work hand in hand because we can do a lot of preparation for the truck in the store, and the store acts as our best advertising, too."
Gary Zemola started Super Duper Weenie in 1992 as a hot dog cart that he brought to various places in the city. In 1999, he approached Pellegrino and his brother Lorin Pellegrino with the idea of opening a Super Duper Weenie restaurant in Fairfield at 306 Black Rock Turnpike because the city of Norwalk did not want to give him a space to operate the hot dog cart.
Soon after opening the store, customers asked the Fairfield natives to put the cart back into service so that their hot dogs could be brought to them for parties and other events, John Pelligrino said.
As the demand for their mobile service grew, the partners added another truck in 2004 and a third truck last year and just recently brought a fourth truck onto the fleet.
"On Mondays, we get a lot of calls from people saying, `I saw you at this party over the weekend and I want to book you,' " said Pelligrino, whose business charges $750 to $1,100 for parties up to 50 people, depending on the day and menu choices.
When asked if he was concerned about his competitors, Pelligrino said, "If I'm worrying about what others are doing, then I'm not worrying enough about what I'm doing."
Super Duper Weenie is one of a few area restaurants that have added a mobile aspect to its business to increase revenue.
For Jeff Arciola, owner of Junior's Hot Dog Stand, 265 Riverside Ave., Westport, it was demand from the Westport community that inspired him to purchase a truck and start a mobile catering company called Jr's Catering on Wheels.
"I kept getting calls asking if we had a hot dog truck and after referring them to other vendors, I realized that this would be a great opportunity," he said.
A 1987 graduate of Staples High School, Arciola studied for four years at Johnson and Wales Culinary School. Before taking over proprietorship from his cousin, Junior Bieling in 2004, Arciola operated Sivermine 19th, a restaurant at Silvermine Golf Club in Norwalk.
"I've always been adventurous and I think the full-service, mobile restaurant will be a great way to meet new people and expand the restaurant's business, too," he said.
A few months ago, Arciola, a Westport resident, purchased a truck in New Jersey for $6,000 that was fully equipped with appliances needed to cook specialty hot dogs, french fries, barbecue chicken and ribs and corn on the cob. Customers can also order Arciola's homemade meatballs, sausage and pepper grinders, chicken Philly cheese steaks and a variety of homemade side dishes. Though he hasn't done any formal advertising, customers have found JR's Catering on Wheels through its website, www.jrshotdog.com.
Arciola attributes his customers' leaning to order more casual fare to the overall summer season.
"People don't want to be formal and be served," Arciola explained. "They like coming up to the truck and eating when they want to. Having our truck there creates a nice, laid-back feel for their party."
Also, guests can order hot dogs with whatever toppings they prefer. Some options are homemade chili, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, onions, baked beans, barbeque sauce and relish. They can also eat as little or as much as they would like.
The main concern with the new addition to the business is the slow economy, said Arciola, who charges $775 to $1,000 to cater events of up to 50 people, depending on the menu.
"It might start out a little slowly, but when the economy's good, I think more people will want the truck over," said Arciola, who has named the truck "Jr's Weeniemobile."
Undoubtedly, customers enjoy the convenience of having the food truck come to their homes and offices, said Jeff Borofsky, owner of Skinny Pines Pizza Brick Oven Caterer. Based in Easton, Borofsky brings his pizza, which is made using produce from local farms, and organic ingredients, to the Westport and New Canaan Farmers' Markets as well as to private parties. In addition to serving pizza with various toppings, Borofsky also provides St. Louis style ribs and a slew of other mouth-watering dishes, upon request.
"We're the only mobile wood-fired mobile caterer in Fairfield County," Borofsky said. "We're supporting the local economy by using local produce. It all trickles down."
"These types of "restaurants on wheels" are definitely becoming a popular trend across Connecticut," said Nicole Griffin, Executive Director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association. "Whether it's a hot dog truck or a pizza truck, it's a great way for a restaurateur to expand upon their business and offer something unique to customers."
Since opening in February of 2010, Skinny Pines has been growing steadily, Borofsky said. He attributes his company's success to the convenience and efficiency of cooking and serving from the truck. "I think people are more comfortable in their own homes," he stated.
For more information about JR's Hot Dog truck, call 203-227-9803 and go to www.jrshotdogs.com; for more information about Super Duper Weenie, call 203-334-DOGS or go to superduperweenie.com, and for more information about Skinny Pines, go to www.skinnypines.com or call (203) 727-8177.