LITTLETON -- Owning a hot dog cart started out as somewhat as a joke for Ed Howard, something fun he could try his hand at after retiring from working 45 years in corporate retail. It has since grown into a yearround business and a fixture in the town.
"Thanks, Ed," a customer said to Howard as he finished up his lunch at the cart last week.
Ed's Weenies has attracted many regular customers during its six years of operation. The regulars then bring new people and they become regulars and, well, you get the point.
"I meet so many different people," Howard said. "They have a good time and enjoy the food."
Howard ran his first hot dog cart -- the old school kind with only an umbrella to protect its user from the elements -- outside of the Littleton Police Station.
"It went so well, I thought I would rather not stand out in the rain so I had this cart built," Howard said. He now sells franks yearround from a 16-foot-long red and yellow trailer tucked in the side of the parking lot at Gary's Farm Stand on Great Road.
"Some of my best days are in a blizzard," he said.
Howard cooks all of his dogs on a flat-top griddle in the trailer. He opts to use a 7-inch-long frank made with beef and pork, the kind that hangs a 1/2 inch off each side of the bun. He serves a 1/4 lb. all-beef slightly smoked hot dog, on a pretzel roll as a special. Howard noted that baseball has helped hot dogs become a symbol of Americana. "I wonder if (Fenway Park) sold fewer dogs this year," Howard said of the lackluster season of the Boston Red Sox.
Howard offers his customers a variety of toppings to dress their weenies with. A table set up in front of the trailer is lined with diced red onion, relish (dill, red, and sweet), ketchup, and mustard (yellow, stone-ground deli, horseradish, honey, and Dijon).
When he makes a hot dog for himself -- which usually happens once a day -- Howard considers himself to be a traditionalist, topping it with only ketchup and mustard.
Inside the cart, Howard can dress customers' franks with beef and bean chili, cheese and grilled sauerkraut.
For the Chili Weenie, chili is layered inside the grilled bun before the dog is placed atop. The Chili Cheese Weenie is made similarly but has melted cheese in its bun, "like a grilled cheese sandwich," Howard said.
"We don't short anybody on chili or cheese, I'll tell you," Howard said as he placed a foil-wrapped Chili Weenie on the prep table inside his trailer. "A lot of people request a fork."
Howard expanded his menu to include sandwiches, at the request of his customers. Now, when he's not pressing dogs on the grill, he turns his attention to scooping fresh chicken (all-white and cranberry walnut), egg and tuna salads, onto a grilled bun with a crisp leaf of lettuce. Ed's Weenies also sells pulled pork sandwiches, but Howard said they go fast.
The red and yellow "Got Weenies?" t-shirts ($10) have emerged as one of the most popular items on Howard's menu.
He was apprehensive when placing his first t-shirt order -- he wasn't sure if anyone would buy them but he took a leap of faith and ordered 122 in his first go-round. Two weeks later, Howard was ready to place his second order.
"I sold 350 shirts the first year but I never see (anyone wearing) them," he said.
Howard pays it forward to the community that supports his business by using all of his tips to purchase books for libraries in the Littleton school system. He has donated more than 12,000 books in the last six years.
Looking back on his four-plus decades in the corporate world, Howard said had he known how successful his hot dog venture would be, and how much he would enjoy it, he would have had a whole fleet of trailers set up in the area. He still hopes to be able to open another cart or two in the next few years.
"It's a fun business," Howard said. "When it's not fun, I won"t do it."
Ed's Weenies, Gary's Farm Stand, 600 Great Road, Littleton, www.edsweenies.com
- Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturdays are the busiest at the stand.
- Atmosphere: Bring the family, grab a few dogs and cans of soda, and have a seat at one of Ed's picnic tables, or stop by for a quick bite during your lunch break.
- Price range: $2.50-$6
- Parking: Tons of it, shared with Gary's Farm Stand.
- Try this: Pretzel Dog (a 1/4-pound hot dog in a pretzel roll -- try it with chili), Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad Sandwich, Pulled Pork (go early, it sells out quick).
- Meal deals: Score two dogs, a bag of chips and a soda for $6, or one dog with sides of both baked beans and potato salad for $6.50.