GROTON, Conn. (AP) - After a chance encounter with a hot dog vendor in New Hampshire almost 30 years ago, Ken Parker decided he wanted to sell hot dogs, too.
“It was about 1986 and I met this guy in North Conway, N.H., and he had a stainless steel cart and he was selling hot dogs, and he was maybe six-foot-five and well-dressed in this white outfit, and he was just so personable and pleasant,” said Parker, explaining that was the moment hot dog vending became his goal.
“I just got this idea then that I wanted to be in the hot dog business,” said the 57-year-old, who lives in Groton and works full time as a pressman at Copy Cats in New London.
But for decades, the hot dog cart was just a dream. By 1996, Parker was a single father raising three girls on his own, and frankfurters were not on the horizon.
When he moved to southeastern Connecticut about 10 years ago, he continued his career in the printing trade. But then, about five years ago, he met his girlfriend, Desiree Gianndrea, also of Groton, and shared his hot dog idea with her.
“I told her about my dream, and she asked, ‘Where is it?’” said Parker, “and I told her, ‘I figure that dream is gone.’”
But Gianndrea encouraged Parker to not let it go.
“She told me, ‘If you put that dream on a vision board over your bed, and you see it every day, it will become a reality.’”
Parker took Gianndrea’s advice, found photographs and other information about the hot dog cart he wanted on a website, and created a vision board for motivation.
Then he lost a cousin to Lou Gehrig’s disease, and it made him all the more determined.
“It just made me realize, life is short and if you have any kind of dream, you need to fulfill it at any age,” he said.
Two years ago, Parker’s dream was realized.
His only-one-of-its-kind in Connecticut, 6-foot-hot dog cart arrived from Willy Dog Hot Dog Carts in Canada. The construction of his specialty red and yellow cart, shaped like a frankfurter, was the subject of a Discovery Channel “How It’s Made” episode before it was shipped to Connecticut.
Now, Parker is a full-time pressman and a part-time hot dog salesman.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday to Sunday, he and Gianndrea operate Supreme Hot Dogs from the parking lot of Family Car Wash in Groton. They run for longer hours in the summer and will suspend the car wash location at the end of December until next spring, but continue to vend at special events and private parties.
They did a wedding with a carnival theme in northern Connecticut.
“We had an open bar for hot dogs,” Parker said.
And the couple has participated in food festivals in New London, charitable events in Groton, and private parties, concerts and holiday events at marinas, ballparks and businesses all across the region.
On Dec. 5, they will be at an event at Holdridge Home & Garden in Ledyard and on Dec. 6 at the Groton Holiday Lights Parade.
There have even been inquiries about a post-wedding party in Newport, Rhode Island, to feed guests after they leave the reception.
Supreme Hot Dogs was in the parking lot after the launch of Church ONEighty at the Nathan Hale School in New London earlier this fall, feeding the hungry after Sunday morning services. And they were up in Baltic for the duration of the Halloween run of the Dark Manor haunted house in October.
Parker said his hot dog dream has finally been realized.
He pulls the $14,000 top-of-the-line cart behind his SUV to follow vending opportunities, and he’s invested in additional equipment that allows him to move his operation indoors when necessary. And he’s broadened his Sabrett hot dog menu to include kielbasa, Georgia Reds Red Hots, and hot and spicy sausages. There is also his chili, which some customers rave is as good as that served at the famous Pink’s Hot Dogs in Los Angeles, and a special onion sauce that Parker makes, as well as fresh chopped onions and jalapenos, all served on Rhode Island’s Calise Bakery rolls.
Prices range from $2 to $5.
“People just love our food,” he said. “Our food is very addicting. And I love the satisfaction I get face-to-face with customers.”
Parker is working seven days a week between his two jobs, but with help from Gianndrea, who is a manager at a local McDonald’s, he’s pleased with the success of Supreme Hot Dogs.
“It’s headed toward full-time,” he said of the frankfurter venture, and added, “My whole life, I just wanted to do this.”
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