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The infamous bacon wrapped hot dog from Leo's Hot Dogs. Photo by Godofredo Vasquez.

 

Written by Lissette Alvarez
It is a cold Saturday night in the Mission district and the streets are quiet except the faint notes of Cumbia music that radiates from a small hot dog trailer parked in front of El Mercantile on 19th Street. The tantalizing smell of hot dogs, bacon, and onions waft through the air.
Adan Gonzalez, the vendor owner, works the stand most nights along with his wife, Lucero Muñoz Arrellano, and employee Maria Reyes. Their white aprons and light-blue gloves almost blend in with the white background of the truck.
Their bacon-wrapped hot dogs and long strands of onions cook on a gas grill and glisten under the trailer’s bright lights. The tables that flank the grill are adorned with the feminine touch of bouquets of red roses and pink lilies. On top of the tables are several bottles of condiments and toppings, including a large jar of jalapeño slices. The women grin at each other as they move the hot dogs and onions with their tongs.
“Hot dogs,” Arrellano calls out as she snaps her silver tongs in the air. “Get your hot dogs here!”
Ricardo Pernia, clad in thick, black glasses walks up to the trailer and eyes the food on the grill.
“I would like one bacon-wrapped hot dog with everything on it,” Pernia orders.
Pernia hands Reyes a $20, which she then gives to Gonzalez. Her boss pulls out a large wad of cash from his apron, big enough to make any wallet burst open. As he rifles through his ones and fives he hands over the customer’s exact change.
Pernia’s dark eyes light up when she hands him his hot dog wrapped in tin foil. The blond man pulls out his black iPhone and shoots a picture of the bacon-wrapped dog.
Pernia takes a large bite of his hot dog and groans softly.

“They have a lot of hot dogs in New York and Chicago, but they don’t have bacon-wrapped hot dogs.” he states.  “Chicago hot dogs are better than New York hot dogs, but this hot dog is better than both of those.”

Gonzalez and Arrellano have been running their vendor business, Leo’s Hot Dogs, for five years. They have two locations. On Mondays and Tuesdays they sell dogs in front of the 24th Street Mission BART station, and on weekends they move the truck up to 19th.

The couple worked their first two years without permits from San Francisco’s health department, but eventually had to obtain the right paper work in order to keep the business going. They are currently the only hot dog vendors in the Mission with the proper permits. Other food peddlers remain unregistered because they aren’t willing to pay the extra fees to legitimize their business.

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Lucrrero Arrellano grills bacon wrapped hot dogs. Photo by Godofredo Vasquez.

Bacon-wrapped hot dogs go by many different names, including TJ Dog, Tijuana Hot Dog, Street Dog, Dangerous Dog, and Dirty Dog. The bacon-wrapped hot dogs are originally from Mexico, According to Ruth Ross-Merrier, a culture writer for Mexconnect and columnist for the Guadalajara Colony Reporter. In her article, “The rise and almost fall of the hot dog in Mexico,”it said American entrepreneurs introduced Mexico to hot dogs after purchasing a concession stand at the Plaza Mexico City bullring in 1943.

Other food peddlers eventually started selling hot dogs, but this time added their own toppings such as cheese, jalapenos, and homemade salsa. In 1956, an unidentified hot dog cart in Mexico City’s Parquet de la Alameda began serving bacon-wrapped dogs to employees of the newly constructed Torre Latino Americana.

“In the past vendors weren’t allowed to sell bacon-wrapped hot dogs because some unregistered vendors would cook them in an unsafe manor,” says Rajiv Bhatia, the Director of San Francisco’s Health Department. “There were several cases in which vendors wouldn’t wear gloves, use dirty utensils, or operate in areas without permission.”

A few years ago food vendors were allowed only the options of boiling or steaming their hot dogs. San Francisco’s new code, implemented by the Board of Supervisors in January 2011, now states vendors can grill their hot dogs as long as the food preparation is up to code.

San Francisco’s health code under article 113818 states vendors cannot cook non-prepackaged food, reheat old items, grind raw ingredients, and must wash any vegetables used. State law requires the food peddlers to get a trailer that can cost up to 45,000 dollars— the equivalent of 15,000 sizzling franks— instead of the bacon dog purveyors’ current propane-powered-cookie-sheets-on-wheels contraptions, which seem to attract swarms of bar-hoppers.

The legislation around street vending, from the Departments of Public Health and Public Works, has become significantly less prohibitive, according to Daniella Sawaya, a mobile food associate from La Cocina.

“For a lot of the traditional hot dog vendors in the Mission, the barrier seems to be the costs of the permits,” explains Sawaya.

The timeline to get everything together and approved is another obstacle for vendors – not to mention navigating legislation and city agencies that operate in a language the vendors may not be fully comfortable with.
“We try to follow the new health regulations as best we can,” Gonzalez says.
In the past, registered food vendors were only allowed to sell their products through their trailers or trucks. “The problem was the customers want to be able to see us cook the food, to make sure it’s fresh,” Gonzalez complains. “We even paid twenty-four thousand dollars for our hot dog trailer. The health inspectors are going to see us next week.”
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The final product. Photo by Godofredo Vasquez.

 

Gonzalez and his wife are now able to sell their hot dogs in front of their truck.

Unlike the illegal vendors, food peddlers with permits not only have to submit to the occasional health inspector, but also to the police and fire department as well. Before the couple obtained the permit for their business they were constantly harassed by police officers.

“Since we’ve become legitimate, it hasn’t been so bad,” Gonzalez says.

The new codes don’t seem to bother the small business owner. “The problem is the illegal food vendors taking our customers,” Gonzalez says. “I don’t think it’s fair that we pay all these taxes and maintain our reputation, while they don’t contribute anything to the city.”

Gonzalez and Arrellano aren’t the only food peddlers struggling in the Mission.

“My boss is trying to get a permit,” Angele Reyes, another hot dog vendor says. “He even got a new truck.”
Reyes’ manager has been selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs for over a year now. Like other illegal vendors, he has avoided getting the proper paperwork for eight years because he isn’t willing to pay taxes or pay extra for new equipment.
“I think it would be great if our boss got a permit,” says Reina Crispen, who also works for the same outfit. She is leans against her dark green van, bacon-wrapped hot dogs cook inside.
Crispen, who emigrated from Guatemala a year ago, arrived with the hope of earning money for her seven children back home, only to be faced with the harsh reality that most undocumented workers come to find.
“I remember being back in December. This big, bald police officer came by my van while I was working,” the small woman continues. “He made me throw out what I had [hot dogs] and then took my money.”
It is 10:30 p.m. and the Mission area is no longer quiet or empty. This time Leo’s hot dog stand is surrounded by a hoard of intoxicated party-goers. Arrellano and Reyes sweat over the heat from the grill passing dog after dog to the demanding customers, while Gonzalez flips through their money. His wife stops and leaves her spot on the grill as a small thin woman, Patricia Torres, walks by. She orders one bacon-wrapped hot dog with grilled onions and ketchup.

“I would buy their hot dogs every Friday and Saturday night,” Torres says. “I prefer their hot dogs because of their freshness and cleanliness. I’ve known them since they’ve started their business and we’ve always looked out for each other.”

Arrellano and Torres link arms as they leave the hot dog stand.

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