It was an iffy day.
That’s not a good sign when you’re selling hot dogs outdoors.
Rain works, because then you have the day off.
Sun works, because then you’re slathering on mustard and meeting all sorts of people.
Dawn Haymans decided to look the iffy part square in the eye and set up her hot dog carts, one in Gilchrist and the other in Ponce de Leon parks in Punta Gorda.
Haymans joined one of her dog groomers, Amber Day – “Do you want sauerkraut on that?” — at Gilchrist in late morning and, sure enough, the sun came out.
Haymans is pretty experienced at making such weather calls. She has been Punta Gorda’s Hot Dog Lady since December 2003. Her carts feature only the “best product: Sabrett hot dogs, Hebrew National, sweet Italian and Polish sausages. Everything is served on a steamed Martin’s Potato roll,” she said. “I have about 50,000 different combinations.”
Hot dogs are $3; sausages and jumbo dogs are $6, drinks a buck.
“Other hot dog places?” Day said. “It’s not the same.”
Haymans, whose husband, Michael, is a Punta Gorda attorney and her biggest fan, said she got into the hot dog business with the idea of “getting to know everyone in town. It’s wanting to sit around and sporadically talk to people all day long.”
Mission accomplished. Everyone knows the Hot Dog Lady, even when the Hot Dog Lady is one of Haymans’ employees such as Day, who is in the midst of starting her own pool service business. Others include Carolyn and Drew Porier and Teresa Mayer. For years, the late Elaine Hatcher was a fixture at the carts. Everyone knows the name of the business – It’s a Hot Dog Day – and Dawn’s catch phrase – “Mustard Up…relish each moment!”
“We are weather dependent and seasonal,” Haymans said, sunshine on her shoulders.
Haymans is originally from Miami. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and taught elementary school for three years. She had her children, and then she sold real estate there for 20 years. Sometime during that span, she got herself a hot dog cart.
She brought it with her when she moved here in ’03. It took six months for her to obtain the necessary permitting. She bought her second cart in 2004.
“I didn’t need to work,” Haymans said. “I just wanted to meet everyone in town. I figured this would be a great way to do it. I want to work within the community. Lots of people are widowed, divorced, going to school. I’m proud to be able to get folks through difficult times. Sitting by the water eating a hot dog can be very therapeutic.
“You develop relationships with the people who come back and forth.”
In turn, the community has “wrapped its arms around me during some tough times,” Dawn said.
Sometimes, the people she gets to know don’t return. She closed her eyes at the thought of where they might be now.
Over the years, she did more than lend an ear while selling a hot dog. She fed the kids of a man named Jeff Weiler their first hot dog. They were 2. Her children have worked the carts. Dawn twice fired her ex-husband. She became grand friends with Hatcher, who died two years ago after 13 years with Dawn. To this day, Dawn barks ‘Damn it, Elaine” when something goes wrong.
The business is not without challenges. Haymans says that her biggest struggle is with the ongoing construction at Gilchrist Park, which is getting a makeover. A makeover is pending at Ponce. At Gilchrist, she says, there’s a need for covered benches and trash and recycle bins.
“We work around it as best we can,” she said.
Hers is a seasonal as well as weather-dependent business. The carts are in the parks from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on nice days during season. During off-season, Dawn works local events like Summer Reading Kickoff at the Punta Gorda branch of the Charlotte County Library.
One cart cannot survive without the other, she says.
“We are not a lunch service, but rather a destination location to enjoy a really great dog on the river or at the beach for $3,” Dawn said.
“I continue to be Punta Gorda‘s Hot Dog Lady.”
Weather permitting, of course.
For more information, call Dawn at 941-889-9655.