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willy dog hot dog cart

We always like to learn more about our winners.  The man behind our 2014 Hot Dog Vendor of the Year, Jim Bontaine has a story to tell.

It’s funny how a disagreement with an employer can completely change your life.  For some, it means joining the local police force, for others it means taking a step away from corporate life to be your own boss.  It was this decision that led him to take ownership of the Willy Cart, now lovingly known as the Willy Dog.

Jim started in the food service business when he was young.  He spent summers working at his family-owned a trailer park in Cayuga grilling hot dogs and burgers every Sunday.  While his dad worked in Toronto during the week, he and his mother ran Conway Park.  Jim did a bit of everything.

After his father’s passing, they gave up the park and Jim held sales and management jobs in a variety of places.  All of that experience taught him how to run his own business… And I know the students of McMaster are happy his path brought him to Hamilton, Ontario.

He started with one cart outside of a local beer store on Dundurn Street twenty years ago.  He quickly branched out seeking nighttime locations, eventually expanding to 4-6 bars weekly at night, while maintaining his day spots.  He got to know the students in town and upon their requests; Jim explored a spot on campus.  After a brief negotiation, his on-campus location was approved in November 2003.

Jim and his staff have rarely missed a day in the last 10 years.  In his time on campus he’s gotten to know the McMaster students, worked to raise funds for their organizations, and become a part of the fabric of the community.  In fact, the Art Gallery of Hamilton requested Willy Dog at the wedding reception on behalf of their clients, students that met while getting their ever-present, always delicious hot dogs.

Students at McMaster can study a variety of degrees, but Jim always reminds the students to “Study Dogology this term” on all of his promotional fliers.  He was even approved by a university committee to have an authentic maroon Mac jacket made up with the Willy Dog logo on the arm, “Dogology 101” on the back indicating his inaugural year of 2003 on campus.  This jacket is a source of pride for Jim and his place in the McMaster community.

Jim sees many of the same students week after week.  To cater to McMaster’s international student and faculty clientele, Jim has added all sorts of toppings to his offerings.  Willy Dog’s customer favorites are ketchup, onions, crushed BBQ chips and Sriracha sauce.  Some recent additions are cilantro chutney and tamarind hot ‘n spicy date chutney.  The variety of toppings on his all beef, halal chicken and veggie dogs keeps his menu exciting for his customers.  When Jim isn’t on campus, he can be found with an extended menu catering private events or with his Willy Dog Cart in many of Hamilton’s special events, such as the Super Crawl in September.

Jim has been able to build a great business, one in which he takes great pride.  “This business isn’t for everyone,” he says.  “Don’t expect overnight to suddenly make money.”  The responsibilities of owning your own business are challenging, let alone the long hours of standing and the weather.  After speaking with Jim, it sounds like none of that bothers him.  His students and his involvement in Hamilton constantly energize him.

What’s next for Jim and Willy Dog?  He’s so excited about the food truck industry and considering expanding onto four wheels.  He’s also got his sights set on a takeout location in the west end of Hamilton.  It looks like the students of McMaster and the people of Hamilton have let this entrepreneur grow and thrive.  We’re always happy to support those visionaries that build their empire, especially when it’s one delicious hot dog at a time.

willy dog hot dog cart

Do you like hot dogs?  With more than 45 percent of the 5,000 votes cast in our recent poll, it’s apparent that Hamilton, Ontario loves the Willy Dog Hot Dog Cart!  We are proud to announce that they are Mobile Cuisine’s 2014 HOT DOG VENDOR OF THE YEAR.

We are happy to celebrate this great news with Jim Bontaine, the owner of the Willy Dog Cart.  He’s made McMaster University his year-round home rain or shine and the students deserve a huge shout out!  They overwhelmingly supported Bontaine and his hot dog creations.  That’s the type of news that keeps us interested in the mobile food community.  The community!

To accommodate his diverse student clientele, he’s created over 30 toppings for his dogs.  There’s something for everyone from every corner of the globe to cover your veggie, beef or halal chicken dog.

As the Spring term starts, we wonder what the future holds for this McMaster University institution.  Will we see more colorful carts around town?  Will there be over 40 toppings by Fall term?  Whatever comes next, we can’t wait!  All we know is that Bontaine and Willy Dogs will be there to serve the best hot dog dishes!  Based on Willy Dog lovers, we think a road trip is in order to try as many of those creative toppings on every dog.  We heard there would be a riot if he ran out of barbeque chips!  Hmmm…  I’ll leave my pitchfork at home and bring extra napkins with my appetite.

Rounding out our top 5 Hot Dog Vendors of the Year are: 

2. Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs – Buffalo, NY – 30%

3. American Wiener – Tampa, FL – 14%

4. Short Leash Hot Dogs – Phoenix, AZ – 4%

5. Good Dog Hot Dogs – Houston, TX – 3%

Hungry for more?

We’ll take a deeper look into Willy Dog in a feature article later this week.

blackjack double down

Apparently this London council committee feels that too many food trucks are paying too little in fees and are parking too close to restaurants. The matter will go to the full council this evening.

LONDON, ONTARIO – A council committee doubled the proposed license fee for a food truck operator and considered whether to put the whole concept off for another year.

On Monday night, the Community and Protective Services Committee again looked at the implications of allowing eateries-on-wheels to operate in the city this summer.  They heard from several restaurant owners who expressed concern about the low-cost, mobile competition from food trucks.  Councillors Judy Bryant and Bill Armstrong pushed to delay the decision until 2015 but the idea was voted down.

Mayor Joe Fontana suggested modifications to the proposed bylaw that were accepted on a vote.  They include:

  • more than doubling the license fee from $1225 to $2620
  • tripling the distance trucks must stay from homes, schools and restaurants to 75m
  • a total of eight trucks, down from twelve

The latest version of the food truck proposal will undergo scrutiny again by full council at their meeting on Tuesday night.

Find the original article at blackburnnews.com/ <here>

London Ontario Canada

It appears that Canadian city councils are having the same issues with food trucks as their American counterparts, unfortunately those that argue against them use the same false logic.

LONDON, ONTARIO – A dozen food trucks could be up and running “quickly” in London but city councillors will have to get off the brakes first.

After about two hours of debate the five-member Community and Protective Services Committee voted Monday (April 28) to refer a staff report nearly a year in the making back for further debate at a special meeting before full council convenes next Tuesday (May 6).

At the meeting the committee will consider three revisions to the bylaw that would limit to 12 the number of food truck licences issued in 2014, would see those licences distributed through a lottery (not an auction as was suggested by Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser) and would require the program be reviewed in the fall so changes can be made for 2015.

The debate bounced between councillors such as Bill Armstrong, Harold Usher, Denise Brown and Orser who are concerned about putting existing restaurants in the downtown core at risk by flooding the market with unfair competition, and those such as Matt Brown and Nancy Branscombe who cringe at the prospect of losing another food selling season mired in micromanagement, like approving individual menus.

Branscombe could see the green in the grass on both sides of the fence: she said when she travels abroad she “always” eats street food and is eager to see a similar experience in London. But the Ontario Progressive Conservative candidate for London North Centre has no appetite for rushing into an approval and putting pressure on existing businesses.

“I would be feeling very bad in a year if businesses closed because of this.”

Both city bylaw enforcement manager Orest Katolyk and a city solicitor advised the committee that enforcing a menu standard enshrined in a bylaw would be troublesome at best.

Armstrong was more blunt, arguing the politicians have no business telling consumers what they want to eat.

“I find it hard for us to sit here and say let’s decide the menu,” he said. “Who are we?”

Whether councillors decide to wade into menu vetting or not, where they will be allowed to set up shop and how much they will pay the city for the right to do so is up to them.

More than 220 parking spots around the downtown core were recommended for food trucks with rules forbidding them from parking within 100 metres of schools or festivals (as in Victoria Park) or 25 metres from existing restaurants or residential buildings.

That number gave Denise Brown pause; she’s concerned after removing parking spots last summer for outdoor patios, there will be another reason to avoid the downtown if even fewer spots are available.

John Stobie, owner of two Stobie’s Pizza locations downtown, said he welcomes competition as long as there’s a level playing field. After some coaxing he revealed he pays more than $100,000 on the leases for his two locations – a lot more than the $1,225 licence fee a food truck owner would pay.

“I’d love that $1,200 fee.”

Find the entire article at londoncommunitynews.com <here>

kitchener Food Trucks

KITCHNER, ONTARIO – The controversy over new rules for food truck operators in Kitchener is heating up as a city committee considers them next week.

While council won’t decide on the proposed set of rules until May, at least one food truck operator says she’s finding the new rules hard to stomach.

At issue is a new a licensing fee of almost $2,000, plus a $150 event fee for every time trucks would set up for special Thursday night events downtown.

Previously, city staff had proposed food trucks be set up between 200 to 400 metres from existing restaurants. In the new proposed rules, that limit would shrink to 30 metres.

Andrea Kim and her husband Christopher started selling Korean food from their truck, West of Seoul, in September of 2013. She says the new rules would affect her bottom line and ultimately, the ability to operate her business in Kitchener.

“The fee is not only unreasonable in comparison to the fees of neighbouring cities, but it’s unreasonable just because of the type of access we’re being given,” Kim said.

She and her husband have already bought a license to operate in Hamilton, which only cost them about $300 by comparison.

Proposed new food truck rules

Food trucks will still be licensed as special events in Kitchener under modified rules proposed by city staff.  Council had previously considered rules at the end of February, until a motion by Coun. Berry Vrbanovic sent staff back to the drawing board.

Here’s what is included in the new rules being voted on Tuesday:

  • Food trucks will be able to operate in ?McLennan Park, Huron Natural Area, Budd Park and Southwest Optimist Park, as well as Huron Business Park.
  • Trucks must be set back at least 30 metres from businesses and 90 metres from schools, unless permission is given by the business or school to decrease that distance.
  • Trucks are prohibited downtown unless they’re part of special events and festivals, Monday lunch hours at city hall, Thursdays between 4:00 -10:00 p.m. at pre-determined locations, or one-off promotional events between businesses and the food trucks.
  • Trucks would also be permitted downtown as part of a pilot program in the Civic District which would see between one to three trucks operate one evening a week.
  • A food truck license to allow operators to set up on public and private property would cost $1,947, plus $150 per event fee. A license to operate on private property only would cost $1,051.

Find the entire article at cbc.ca <here>

In Mobile Cuisine Magazine’s quest to keep our readers up to date with the latest stories relating to the food truck industry has compiled a list of the stories that hit the wire this weekend.

Oct 7

Food truck owners navigate city rules to operate in Wilmington – WILMINGTON, NC – Ed Coulbourn III said it would be a slow day. But before 1 p.m. Tuesday a crowd of hungry men – and a couple of women – gathered around the red trailer parked on the north side of Oleander Drive next to Red Wing Shoes.

Find the entire story <here>


Battle of the Food Truck Battles, Plus a Battle Over Food Trucks – NASHVILLE, TN – How much food could a food truck truck if a food truck could truck food? A lot. And the rolling restaurants have proliferated to the point that I saw the Meres Bulles vehicular unit parked outside an otherwise unassuming office-supply store the other day.

Find the entire article <here>

Oct 8

IE Food Truck and Brew Fest draws thousands in Ontario – ONTARIO, CA – The IE Food Truck and Brew Fest drew thousands to feast on specialty grilled cheese, hot dogs, gourmet cupcakes and, in the latest addition to the event, craft beers from Southern California breweries.

Find the entire article <here>


O.C. food truck to open brick and mortar shop – WEST COVINA, CA – Orange County food truck Tropical Shave Ice is going brick and mortar with a Hawaiian treat shop in West Covina.

Find the entire article <here>

Oct 9

Restored ’62 Chevy dispenses fine foods and espresso – AUBURN, CA – Having a restaurant on wheels is the fulfillment of a longtime dream for Deb Arbogast. “I’ve wanted a food truck for 10 years and finally got to do it,” she said. “I like to dine there and I’ve always wanted it. It’s just cool.”

Find the original article <here>

MODERN KITCHEN: Ex-sergeant cooks up hot dish on wheels – GRAND FORKS, ND – Food trucks are not exactly known for producing gourmet fare. Scott “Skip” Haag is out to change that.

Find the entire article <here>



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