Food on the go: Pushcart a step toward upward mobility

Food on the go: Pushcart a step toward upward mobility

January 19th, 2011 by Karen Nazor Hill in Life Entertainment

Good Dog employee Bethany Congdon holds up the Chili Cheese Slaw Dog, left, and the Chicago Dog as they will be prepared and presented from the Good Dog hot dog cart.

When Susan Paden, owner of Good Dog, wanted to expand her specialty hot-dog restaurant, she followed the crowd. Her increasing number of takeout orders persuaded her to add a roving cart called Good Dog Go.

"It became evident that we needed a good way to take Good Dog to the people," she said.

Street food, defined as food sold from carts and mobile units, was one of the biggest trends in the food industry last year, according to the Culinary Trend Mapping Report.

Like restaurants, the business of selling food in pushcarts and mobile units requires licensing from the Hamilton County Health Department. Lowe Wilkins, department program supervisor, said all units are inspected and scored at least twice a year.

Paden said it was easy for her business to go mobile because she already had the necessary permits for the existing restaurant on Frazier Avenue.

"Having a commissary to work out of is required," she said. "We did acquire a mobile pushcart license and do have regular health-department visits at the cart."

The latest scores were 96 at the restaurant and a perfect 100 for Good Dog Go.

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To find out where the Good Dog Go cart is located on a daily basis, weather permitting, call 475-6175.

"It is important to me to make sure we have excellent scores at Good Dog and on the Good Dog Go cart because the perception of mobile food is not always great," she said.

Although pushcarts are still rare locally, larger mobile food vendors are gaining ground, according to Wilkins.

"Chattanooga Market has created a lot of interest," he said. "We have a number of mobile units down there."

Paul Smith, the market's general manager, said he saw a dramatic increase in applications last year.

"We had a variety of new vendors, including a cart vendor with crepes and somebody who made fresh doughnuts," he said. "But an event like ours can only support so many."

Paden said she has since bought a second cart and hopes to expand her mobile business even further.

"I purchased an older bread truck and planned to convert it to a true mobile food truck, but the cost was more than I could consider at the time," she said. "I still have the truck, would love to use it, but have also received offers for it from folks interested in the same thing, mobile food."

Paden said Chattanooga entrepreneurs can look to larger cities for entering this untapped local industry.

"I lose sleep over the incredibly cool environment that you find in New York and Portland (Oregon), for example, simply on the streets with good food," she said. "It's just not something you see in Chattanooga yet as much, but I am a firm believer in the incredible growth of our city and how very much we need to jump on these opportunities for business growth.

"If Chattanooga had more of a street-cart presence - a taco truck, a hot-dog cart, a pizza-slice wagon, a funnel-cake cart - all in a row, we would begin to create a buzz for mobile food."

Good Dog Go's second cart helps Paden take care of business opportunities beyond the lunchtime rush.

"We have loved being in backyards for children's birthday parties. We have pulled our cart to the ninth hole of a golf course for a fundraising event, have entertained guests at wedding rehearsal dinners and so many other great events," Paden said.

One of the most memorable, she said, was selling hot dogs outside during MainX24's Main Event at the old Hill's Floral space on Main Street.

"It was freezing outside, and guests could come out and buy a hot dog from the steaming hot grill until 3 a.m. The scene was so 'big city' because it was such a well-attended event," she said. "There was a line of folks grabbing dogs at 2 a.m. I believe that, in the years to come, we will see more vendors on the corner at events like that."

The added benefit with Good Dog Go has been increased marketing.

"Having a mobile unit has helped us get the word out about our restaurant, offered the opportunity for us to cater, given us the chance to be involved in some worthy causes and special events, but mainly makes us feel like we are a part of something really cool in this town," Paden said.