It Costs More Than You Might Think To Run A Hot Dog Stand In NYC

In everything from movies to cartoons, the busy streets of New York are flooded with hot dog vendors. They're portrayed with Brooklyn accents as thick as the mustard on their hot dogs, faces sweaty from standing over the grill all day. They may sell other products and snacks, such as soft pretzels, bags of chips, and ice-cold bottles of Coke, but their main selling point is, of course, big red New York-style franks. With a New York-style hot dog in one hand and two slices of New York-style pizza in the other, you could have yourself a real Big Apple lunch.

The invention of what we know today as the modern hot dog cart can be credited back to Frances E. Coffey. In 1926, according to All-American Hot Dog, Coffey patented a vending cart that included both a cooking plate, a steaming table, and even a basic refrigerator. Since then, hot dog carts have become a fixture of Manhattan streets, most of them bearing the namesake of hot dog company Sabrett.

But just what exactly do you need to open your own hot dog cart? Is it as easy as buying your own cart, stocking up on hot dogs, and parking outside of a subway station to wait for the money to roll in? As it would turn out, opening a hot dog stand in New York may not be as easy that — in fact, you're probably going to need a lot of cash.

You need to pay up for premium spots

When you're setting up your hot dog stand, you need a spot with one prime element: people. In case you were wondering if you should set up shop near the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, for example, you'd better be prepared to contend with the dozens of other vendors seeking out a spot, as well as the price to operate there. According to a 2018 report by The Huffington Post, you'll have to cough up $125,170 to hold a license allowing you to sell your goods outside the Met — a hefty price to sell some sausage.

In case you thought that the price had gone down as of late, the Entrepreneur's Handbook reports that, in 2021, the cheapest spot in New York is Inwood Park, for $700 dollars per year. Places like Central Park or the Met will cost you up to $200,000 dollars, depending on how prime the spot is. Outside factors such as inflation and having to cut the cost to pay for taxes can also cause the price tag to fluctuate. One example given is Mohammad Mustafa's spot, which Mustafa pays the city $289,500 dollars a year to keep. A decade or so earlier, he was only paying $120,000 dollars.

According to Salary Expert, the average hourly rate a hot dog vendor will make is $15 dollars an hour. This means that in order to pay the "rent" on your spot, you must work morning to night all day, every day, to break even.