13-Year-Old Aspiring Hot Dog Vendor Shut Down By City, Sells Cart At A Profit

A Michigan teen’s hot dog cart is a more complex operation than your garden-variety lemonade stand. Wanting to earn some money to help out his disabled parents, the 13-year-old saved up to purchase a hot dog cart, then set up business in downtown Holland. The city promptly shut him down. Thanks to zoning laws designed to protect downtown eateries, food carts can’t set up in the city unless they’re part of an existing restaurant operation. The young entrepreneur is too young for a street vendor’s license, which could have kept the business running. So what did he do next? After attracting national media attention, he sold the cart to a local business, but retains the right to borrow it back for special events that might require hot dogs.

The parents paid for half of the cart, and the teen saved up the rest from gifts and doing chores for neighbors. His family checked with City Hall first before opening up the business, obtained a permit from the county, and assumed that everything was legal. They didn’t know that zoning rules meant that a food business couldn’t open in the planned location. The family continues to lobby the city for a change in the rules.

Selling a failed venture at a profit after a shower of free media attention? We predict a bright future in business for this kid.

Nathan’s Hot Dog Hut [Official Site]
13-year-old Holland hot dog vendor shut down by city hall gets generous offer, outpouring of support [MLive] (via Fark)
13-year-old entrepreneur told no hot dog sales [Holland Sentinel]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Kuri says:

    Kind of hard to instill that entrepreneurial in kids with stuff like this happening.

    • lyontaymer30 says:

      Actually this is a very good lesson for him. This is how business really is, no reason to sugarcoat it now. You see with Apple trying to sue everybody for pettiness and being involved in 60% of the suits in their industry.

      • Kuri says:

        I guess teaching “he who has the most makes the rules, and you have none” might be a good lesson

        • lyontaymer30 says:

          That’s life. But even the little guy has their advantages, it isn’t all big or nothing.

  2. The Fake Fake Steve Jobs says:

    These stories annoy me a bit. The kid wasn’t a business genius. He was running a business in such a way that violated rules, got media coverage because “the gubberment is picking on a kid”, and another business said, “You know what, I can make this make me look good!”

    Selling lemonade at a stand in front of your house? I can see why people would have an outrage at a kid getting shut down but once you’ve got a food cart you’re a bit more big time. My guess, in both cases, the reaction to an adult doing the same would be the same.

    • Tegan says:

      Yeah, that’s about how I feel too. It’s nice that he was using money to help his parents, but that doesn’t change the fact that he needs to follow the rules just like everyone else. This is definitely not the same as little kids setting up a lemonade stand in the front yard.

      • huadpe says:

        He went to city hall and specifically asked about all the rules and regulations so he could follow them, and nobody mentioned this rule. Pretty hard to follow the rules when the only way to find out they exist is to get fined/shut down by the city.

        Also, like scooby said below, these sort of zoning laws should be opposed on their merits. The law this kid was shut down under is a bad law for adults too, as it seeks only to enrich old incumbent businesses at the expense of new entrepreneurs and their customers.

        • Chill4291 says:

          I’m wondering if the person he asked realized this kid was running a full blown cart, and not just a little rinky dink setup.

    • scooby111 says:

      Yeah. People might be able to set up businesses that sell things that people want. The horror!

      Zoning laws like this one are purely for the benefit of the already established businesses and against consumers. They keep competition out and get to keep their prices high as a result. It’s not like the kid was trying to set up his hot-dog stand in a residential neighborhood next to an elementary school.

    • Hoss says:

      How many tens of thousands of hot dogs would the kid need to sell just to recoup the $2500 they paid for the cart? I quess the idea seemed more appealing than bagging groceries.

      BTW — we should let him sell beer as well, just because our laws should only apply to older folks

      • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

        Depending on what he charged, not that many. If he charged $1.50 for each hot dog, and they come 8 to a pack for $1.50 and buns cost $1.00 for 10, that’s $12.00 for 8 dogs, minus the $2.50 or $9.50. Pull out another $2 for sterno and condiments, and he’s clearing $7.50 per 8 dogs, or a little over a dollar a dog, so 2,250 hot dogs.

      • RvLeshrac says:

        Chicago Dogs charges pretty close to $5 for a hot dog.

      • huadpe says:

        Probably about 2500 hot dogs ($0.50 ingredients, $1.50 price), less if people also buy sodas, candy, or other add-ons.

      • Bob says:

        Exactly! I mean it would be awful for anyone wanting to sell food to go to city hall and get a list of regulations, follow these regulations, and then have the zoning committee point out another regulation that was written to keep food prices high and that even the city seemed to “forget” and drive some one out of business. We especially can’t have that if they are under 18 and need the money and job.

        And this exactly why unemployment is high. You start a business and you follow the rules and then someone in government throws a curve ball and puts you out of business. You gotta love free enterprise, eh?

  3. Marlin says:

    Problem is you open the door for him and many many others will use it or even worse use it as a loophole for worse.

    • scooby111 says:

      Opening a hotdog stand isn’t a problem. If people don’t want the service offered, they are free to not shop there. The only people who have a problem with it is the local food establishments who don’t want competition. After all, if someone is providing a superior service, they can’t profit as much, can they?

  4. Howard says:

    What happened to 13 year olds just trying to get laid?

    • Captain Spock says:

      In what universe should a 13 year old be aspiring to, or encouraged to “get laid”. I would point you to some statistics about an alarming trend in Teen Sex, but I am lazy and it should be obvious that this would not be a good thing.

      • xmason99 says:

        As a 13 year old boy, I was always looking to get laid.

        Mind you, I had no clue how to accomplish this, but the thought was always in my mind. :)

      • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

        You know that there is no trend, right? It’s been about the same since the 80s at the latest?

        And what 13-year-old isn’t a pervert?

      • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

        In fact, the alarming trend is an all-time low:

        Unless you’re in the “More kids fucking, please!” camp, it’s probably not that alarming.

        • atomix says:

          I don’t see anything in that study that mentions the percentage of sexually active 13-year-olds.

          Pregnancy rates among 15-year-olds and sexual activity among 13-year-olds are two fairly disparate things. Even if every teenager were sexually active, education, healthcare, and other factors would affect the trends in pregnancy.

          • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

            Related cohorts. Basic statistical inference.

            • atomix says:

              Sorry, I still don’t see it. Given all the focus put on schools providing sex-ed earlier and earlier, I would say a study that shows decreasing teenage pregnancy probably indicates effective education rather than decreasing sexual activity.

    • Jane_Gage says:

      Isn’t that the only reason men and lesbians go into business? For money to lure women into bed with?

  5. jacobs cows says:

    The zoning rules should be changed.He had the needed permits.He should be able to set up at a spot that isnt near a restaurant.

    • The Fake Fake Steve Jobs says:

      Why should the zoning rules be changed? Everyone else is capable of abiding by the regulations, what makes this person different?

      • Captain Spock says:

        the Zoning rules probably had a lot to do with business “contributing”
        to politicians campaigns… They are not starting with a level playing field just because “it is the law”

        • lyontaymer30 says:

          When has life ever been a level playing field? Fact is some people are born into advantage, some people earn an advantage, some cheat or steal it. It’s never going to be even.

        • The Fake Fake Steve Jobs says:

          I completely agree that the zoning laws are probably influenced by the businesses the protect. But, changing the rules for this kid is just as unfair as the rules existing in the first spot.

          Would we be having this conversation if it wasn’t a 13-year old kid? Let’s say a 30-year old man with no family? A homeless 30-year old man who is a recovering drug addict? A successful food cart owner who has setups in multiple cities?

          I’m not saying the rules are right or fair but if we’re going to have an outcry let’s have outcry because we don’t like the rules. Not because someone had a sad story. No one would care if this wasn’t a 13-year old kid, no one would care if it was a middle-aged man with no family, and no one would care if this was a successful business owner trying to do the same.

        • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

          I think it has more to do with the zoning board being influenced by keeping money in the community, not from being influenced by people contributing. If a business has a store front in the community, that means they are paying local taxes, fees, inspections, etc… If they lose business to someone from the next town over, that costs the town itself money, because if one of those businesses shutters, that’s money that the town itself is losing, which means a reduced budget.

    • soj4life says:

      And when they change the zoning laws, you are going to have a story of a restaurant going out of business because a food truck or another mobile vendor put them out of business. This will result in employees losing their jobs, and the city losing tax money. The story will end with comments from those wondering why the city would change their laws in a way that would put businesses out of business.

  6. You Can Call Me Al(isa) says:

    “laws designed to protect downtown eateries”
    Protect them from what? Competition?

    Yes, not knowing the rules is no excuse. However, I’m glad that they are planning on working to change those rules.

    • Kitamura says:

      I’m guessing the issue is similar to what happened this year in our city. Basically we started allowing food trucks into the city and they park in front of restaurants only for the lunch hour.

      The restaurant that complained basically had the problem that this truck appeared at their prime business hour, siphoned off their customers and then took off as soon as lunch was over.

      It sounds stupid when you listen to it, especially since the city basically issues a permit saying the food truck was supposed to park at that location, but now they’re trying to come up with rules and guidelines so that they don’t have to mediate any future spats between businesses next year.

      • dks64 says:

        If I was a restaurant owner, I’d be pissed too.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          That your restaurant sold such shitty and/or overpriced crap that a food truck parked out front for an hour each day is going to put you out of business? I can see how that might be upsetting.

    • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

      I think it’s more from outside competition. Someone from the next town over comes in, takes the money from the in town business that pays taxes and the such, and then the business may suffer and the town will lose it’s income from that business. They are looking out for themselves.

  7. nicoleintrovert says:

    I think there is a big difference between a lemonade stand in a kid’s front yard and a food cart business located in an area where it appears to be a legit business. If he’s in a park or on the street I am going to assume he is operating under food cart health guidelines. (How strong are those anyway?) But he does need to play by the rules if he is trying to start an actual business.

  8. axolotl says:

    He’ll be alright. There’s always money in the banana stand.

  9. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Try opening a hot dog stand in front of one of Romney’s mansions.

  10. chargernj says:

    Why can’t his parent apply for a street vendors license? In most places child labor laws are relaxed somewhat to allow your children to work at a family owned business.

  11. Rob says:

    Is a 13 year old even able to enter into a legal contract for business?
    I would have to think that the permits would have to be in the parents name as well as any sales contracts.

    • atomix says:

      Looks like that’s the route they were trying to take:

      “The young entrepreneur is too young for a street vendor’s license, which could have kept the business running.”

      “His family checked with City Hall first before opening up the business, obtained a permit from the county, and assumed that everything was legal.”

  12. dush says:

    Isn’t it a movable cart? Just go to some place zoned appropriately.
    Why couldn’t the parents get the vendor license for the cart?

  13. doctorc4 says:

    As someone who owns a Hot Dog Cart, it is not that easy. You need licenses, you need permits, you need a place to setup, you need to be inspected, etc. There are tons of things that go into this. And the best part? Most people in the City Government had No idea how to assist me in getting up and running.

    This type of ordinance is not uncommon. In another city near me, you have to get the permission of any eatery in a 250 foot radius before you can setup. In Boston, if you have propane, you need to be inspected by the Fire Marshall. All towns have their quirks.

    Welcome to business kid.

    • dks64 says:

      Even though there are many hoops to jump through, I understand why you can’t just set up anywhere. The health inspections are the biggest concerns. Can you imagine the increase in food poisoning cases if just anyone bought a cart and tried to open a business? There’s no excuse for the city not to explain what you need better.

  14. Obtruder says:

    Rules or rules, had this kid been an adult instead there would be nothing to see here.

    Though granted the zoning rules make no sense. You can’t sell food on the street without having a full venue first? A lot of restaurateurs start out with a cart and then move to a larger venue, seems like that stifles business growth in that sector.