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September 7, 2012 8:35 AM   Subscribe

What legal bits and bobs does it take to start up a hot dog stand and/or street vendor type business?

I suppose the same goes for non-food (aka crafty) type good as well but let's not be too broad....

Sort of an academic type question but I'm just curious and can't help but wonder what sort of expenses, courses, fees, licenses, taxes one should expect to pay outside of material costs for equipment, materials, and other day to day expenses.

I'm assuming you'd have to get a license with the city in question, some sort of inspection by the health department, and then you're allowed to sell your goods anywhere you want that isn't specifically prohibited?

Anyway, feel free to hit me with what search terms I should be using in my research or whatever else you may have handy on the subject.

Oh, assume this is for a business in the US and/or the location in my profile if you want to actually provide specifics but that's probably unnecessary as I'm asking in a more general sense than anything else...
posted by RolandOfEld to Work & Money (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Explain it to me like I'm five, a really smart five year old, but still...
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:36 AM on September 7, 2012

Contact your local SBA office.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:39 AM on September 7, 2012

...and then you're allowed to sell your goods anywhere you want that isn't specifically prohibited?

It's a little more complicated. The industry is policed from the inside, there's turf, there's turf wars, and whether or not you're legally allowed to do something matters a whole lot less than whether or not the other vendors will allow you.
posted by griphus at 8:41 AM on September 7, 2012

It's actually a very complicated and contentious issue here in the Triangle of North Carolina. Here's an amazingly thorough yet easy-to-understand blog post about it. This is more focused on "food trucks" than a hot dog cart, but it seems as though they are both regulated the same, at least in this area.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:41 AM on September 7, 2012

This person helps out a lot of sellers on etsy who are just getting started. Her blog has links to all the relevant business start-up pages for each state.
posted by magnetsphere at 8:58 AM on September 7, 2012

Beyond the legal issues food trucks are becoming very political as traditional restaurants are starting to feel threatened by the competition. In most smaller towns and cities, restaurant owners typically have pretty strong political clout and they are starting to use it to make life difficult for the food trucks.
posted by COD at 8:58 AM on September 7, 2012

Sorry Link
posted by magnetsphere at 8:58 AM on September 7, 2012

Response by poster: there's turf, there's turf wars,

Well put. Let's assume I'm not interested in breaking into a market like that, just in maybe selling some hotdogs at a festival or at a tailgating type situation.

Rock Steady: That bog post is great, exactly what I was looking for. Seems to equate the stands to food trucks however and I guess I can see the logic if not necessarily the merit in that equalization.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:58 AM on September 7, 2012

Correct me if I am wrong but I think festivals/tailgaiting would be a different situation as both of those would be on private property (unless you were doing it in a municipal parking lot, I guess.)
posted by griphus at 9:02 AM on September 7, 2012

I have some family members that are doing this. Much of this is controlled/licensed by counties, so you may have to decide if you want to be licensed in one county or more.
You will need:
1. Food handling license (usually a brief class, maybe on-line, maybe statewide or a county certificate).
2. Business license.
3. Much of the rest depends on where you are operating- private property/events (weddings/festivals/etc) will not have as many rules as public property i.e. pulling up on the street and selling. It is MUCH easier to get licensed for private events than public property.
posted by cushie at 9:02 AM on September 7, 2012

Response by poster: Sorry for the ambiguity concerning locale and target markets.

Honestly I guess I was trying to just focus the question on sidewalk vending in general. I understand there may be extra hoops to jump through to get into a given festival, farmer's market, or private event. I guess I was just thinking of a parallel to street vendors from a recent trip abroad, just a guy with a cart and a sidewalk probably in a city. No more and no less location specific than that.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:07 AM on September 7, 2012

I sold grilled cheese sandwiches made on a small camping stove in the parking lots of Grateful Dead shows during the spring 1982 tour. inevitably, when we were in a municipal lot in a town that was heavily "defended" against the hordes of hippies coming to town to do drugs, have sex and rampage, I was shut down for not having a local licenses. Usually it was a food service license, but when the local cop wanted to get creative, it would be a small business license and he would toss in something along the lines of having an open fire in public and also would try to site me for not having proper garbage disposal, littering and inadequate refrigeration for the cheese.

So, I would then start giving the sammies away for free. Ended up with more in donations and kind (shirts, trinkets, tickets) than if I just sold them for a buck each.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:10 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

My point was to work closely with the local town government or they will find a way to shut you down.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:11 AM on September 7, 2012

I guess I was just thinking of a parallel to street vendors from a recent trip abroad, just a guy with a cart and a sidewalk probably in a city.

During a summer job where I had a lot of breaks and nowhere to go, I ran a few errands for a hot dog vendor to other hot dog vendors. None of these dudes are islands. They operate independently, but they're tightly networked and coordinated. The city tells you that you can (in a general way) sell things, and that you can't sell them here, here, or here, but that doesn't give you carte blanche to sell anywhere you want. These guys know where they're setting up in the morning, and they know there's a whole system in place to make sure of that. Otherwise, it'd be chaos.
posted by griphus at 9:15 AM on September 7, 2012

Well, since you won't/can't say where this might happen, here is what seems to be a decent breakdown of what you'd need to do if you wanted to do this in San Francisco.

In general, you need a permit or license from the city/county, and additional permitting from whoever's in charge of food safety (it may or may not be the health department; it depends on where you are). There will likely be restrictions on the size and location of the cart, and what times it can operate; you may also be required to store and prep your consumables in an approved food preparation facility (and that will cost additional money).
posted by rtha at 9:18 AM on September 7, 2012

Response by poster: griphus: Yea, I can see that being the case in NYC, but here (and in a few other places that I've had this same thought) there's no vendors of the hot-dogish variety and few food vendors at all. I suppose there might be reasons, red-tape or profitability wise probably, for this but a hot-dog mafia akin to NYC isn't a battle I'd be willing to fight anyway.

rtha: Yea, just general ideas is all I'm trying to get a sense of at this point. I figured the only real and try on the ground solution would be, like Sticherbeast said, to contact the local chamber of commerce or SBA office. These links are helpful in getting a gist of things though. The potential requirement for an offical "commissary" or other inspected-type kitchen to prep/clean up/dump water is another thing I hadn't considered.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:25 AM on September 7, 2012 has a "Professional Hot Dog Vendors" forum with LOTS of info.
posted by pentagoet at 9:56 AM on September 7, 2012

When I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, there was a woman who sold French macarons at the farmer's market. In her case she had converted part of her house into a licensed commercial kitchen. This worked out for her because she also gave various types of cooking lessons in that space.

Here in North Carolina's Research Triangle area, more specifically Durham, there is something called The Cookery which rents out commercial kitchen space by the hour and is also a food business incubator. I think many other cities in the U.S. have such licensed commercial kitchen spaces that can be rented by food vendors with no such facilities of their own.
posted by research monkey at 10:24 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

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