On the morning of the day she opened for business, A Happy Hot Dog owner Renee Gillmore had a moment. “I looked at my cart and thought ‘I hope I know how to make a hot dog,’ ” she remembers. “I probably hadn’t made one since I was 12 years old,” she laughs.
Everything went fine, says Gillmore, as it has on many other occasions since that cold weekend in December 2009. “It was 28 degrees that day,” she notes. “I’ll never forget it.”
Like the many food trucks that are part of the growing mobile dining scene in Woodinville and other urban areas, Gillmore parks her A Happy Hot Dog vehicle in various locations in the community. She uses Facebook and Twitter to get the word out about where she is going to be on any given weekend.
You’ll usually find A Happy Hot Dog at one of the Woodinville winery tasting room parking lots. Lately, Gillmore has been setting up at the on Saturdays, but she also frequents the Woodinville Warehouse Wineries, , , and others.
The link between the wineries and A Happy Hot Dog is no accident. In fact, Gillmore first came up with the idea of operating a food truck two years ago when she was working in the Darby Winery tasting room. She noticed that by about 3 or 4 in the afternoon the wine tasters would be “a little tipsy,” and in need of food.
Gillmore started researching ways to make a business providing a quick meal for them. It turned out that one of her friends had previously put together a business plan for a hot dog stand. The two of them met, reworked the plan and studied the options. JoDee Brownsworth helped her finance the purchase of the cart. “Without her I wouldn’t be here,” Gillmore notes.
A Happy Hot Dog is, as its name suggests, a low-key, friendly sort of operation. Gillmore’s compact cart includes a small grill, storage for condiments and a propane-powered refrigerator unit. Her cash register is an old metal Star Wars lunch box. Her dog, Sammi, sits nearby in the shade of a pop-up tent attached to the truck she uses to pull the cart to and from her home.
The menu includes hot dogs ($4) and bratwurst ($6); customers can choose from a number of available toppings, including cream cheese (a Seattle taste sensation, according to Gillmore), blue cheese, cheddar cheese, grilled onions, sauerkraut, pineapple or jalapenos. Ketchup, relish, three types of mustard and Sriracha are available as well. Chicken and veggie dogs can be made to order.
“Bratwurst are definitely the favorite,” says Gillmore; she goes through “quite a few onions,” as well. A simple hot dog with mustard is her meal of choice. As for me, I like a hot dog with grilled onions and pineapple, topped with one of the specialty mustards.
Originally from Portland, Gillmore moved here five years ago. She worked in the mortgage industry and waited tables before starting in the Darby tasting room. While she still enjoys filling in at the tasting room during the week, what she likes most about operating A Happy Hot Dog is “that it’s me…I don’t have to work for anyone.”
She hopes to expand her operations to a weekday location. Lately, she has been setting up at the Black Raven Brewing Company in Redmond on Friday nights.
Gillmore has also operated A Happy Hot Dog at area celebrations such as the Chateau Stay-cation at last Memorial Day weekend, and at non-profit events like the 2010 Pushing Boundaries Oktoberfest in Redmond. She even provided refreshments at a baseball-themed graduation party one year.
So, keep an eye out for A Happy Hot Dog’s cheerful red, white and blue umbrella as you drive around town, or check out Gillmore’s Facebook page or Twitter feed to find out where she will be serving up her wares this weekend. Whether you are out tasting wines or just running errands, you can stop in for a quick bite and a friendly chat.
I think you’ll be glad you did.