Schenectady County

Schenectady vendors hope sizzling sales will cut the mustard

There certainly are more lucrative ways to make a living, but none at the moment are as sweet for Ju

There certainly are more lucrative ways to make a living, but none at the moment are as sweet for Justin Tesch as selling all-beef hot dogs from a stainless steel cart at Liberty and Clinton streets in the city.

“I enjoy the freedom,” said Tesch, 31, of Schaghticoke, formerly of Schenectady. “I want to use this as a springboard to having my own restaurant.”

Tesch recently joined the thin ranks of vendors selling food from tiny carts in the city. “There is not a lot of competition,” he said.

The city clerk’s office has issued permits to four vendors this year. Albany, by contrast, has dozens.

Tesch began selling hot dogs from his “Red Neck Gourmet” cart in April as a way to support himself and his 2 1⁄2-year-old daughter. He would not say how much he makes but said it’s enough to pay his bills, which include

a monthly mortgage payment. “I squeak it out,” he said.

Tesch launched his business after he was laid off in February 2010 after 11 years with Callanan Industries, where he was a laboratory manager.

“I was trying to get a job where I could make a decent amount of money and not have to work crazy hours,” he said.

At Callanan, he worked upwards of 100 hours a week. “We worked until the job was done,” he said. As a single father, he said he wants to spend more time with his daughter, “to be there for her.”

Tesch said his own father, John Tesch of Albany, formerly of Schenectady, suggested he sell hot dogs from a cart and offered to loan him money to launch his business.

Justin Tesch did some research and decided to proceed. “I love to eat and I love to cook. I have been on my own since I was 18, and I learned to fend for myself,” he said.

Tesch had a cart custom-made at a cost of $2,500, plus $500 for shipping. He bought supplies and secured the necessary annual permits — $125 from the city to secure a location and $275 from Schenectady County Public Health Services, which inspects the cart and requires vendors to take a food safety class.

Tesch also purchased a $1 million liability insurance policy costing $700, which holds the city harmless.

Other than these expenses, his overhead is low.

Joe McQueen, spokesman for Schenectady County, said the county inspects mobile food vendors at least once a year and when it receives a complaint. He said the county has not received any complaints to date.

McQueen added that vendors must prominently display a sticker issued by the county. The county has issued certificates to 54 mobile vendors for this year.

Tesch tried to start his business last September at a location near the Schenectady County Office Building, but he found the going rough. He returned this year for the full season, which runs April through November.

“I have built my clientele from Day 1,” he said, sometimes selling dozens of dogs a day at $2 apiece. “This is a great location. I see more foot traffic here than anywhere else,” he said.

His cart is at a pedestrian convergence: near City Hall, the main branch of the Schenectady County Public Library, the headquarters of the Schenectady Police Department and the post office.

The city restricts vendors from operating within 250 feet of existing restaurants. This is to ensure that they do not compete with them, according to city officials.

Tesch sets up at 9:30 a.m. works until 3 p.m., rain or shine. He also spends time cleaning his equipment and purchasing products, putting in about 10 hours a day for his business. “It is more than just showing up and selling food,” he said.

His menu is simple: hot dogs, toppings and a beverage. “With a hot dog cart, you are limited,” he said.

Still, he said, he tries to set himself apart from the competition: “I use the best of the best. Everything is fresh every day.” Also, he provides a variety of toppings that appear to draw connoisseurs of hot dogs to him. Toppings include bacon, blue cheese and sweet onions.

Harold Reedy likes the bacon.

“That’s real bacon. Who offers real bacon around here?” he asked.

Reedy drives from Glenville every day, sometimes twice a day, to buy one or more hot dogs from Tesch. “He has a good hot dog. He is the best around,” he said.

Tough going

Cyndi Hildenbrand has operated Cyndi’s Hot Dogs on State Street, opposite the Schenectady County Office Building, for 11 years. Her perspective on the business is different from Tesch’s. Basically, she sees no future in it.

“Every year I say I am not going out, but I like the people. I get discouraged by the money thing, but I come back because of my customers,” she said.

Hildenbrand has seen business drop through the years, dragged down by the recession and competition from a diner inside the county office building.

“People are brown-bagging it,” she said. “I used to sell 100 hot dogs a day. If I sell 30 per day, that is a good day,” she said. She sells hot dogs for $2.75 apiece.

Her daily expenses come in around $40, leaving her with revenues that average about $10 per hour for the work she puts in. “I can’t cut down any more than I have,” she said.

Granted, Hildenbrand only works three hours a day and does not come out in the rain. She also starts her season in June and works through September.

“I don’t know if this is the best location, but I know everyone here and it’s not always about the money. I like to laugh and give someone a smile,” Hildenbrand said.

She said she tried to move her business to Albany, but there is a waiting list for a permit there that is years long. Also, the cost of doing business in Albany is higher. Permits cost about $1,500 annually, plus vendors have to pay for parking.

Categories: Business

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