HYANNIS – Jacob Marcus, one of the four 14-year-old co-founders of Cape Cod Dawgs, learned from his parents that research is important before starting a business.
And then he found out that research could also be delicious.
“When we went to Nick’s in Fall River, none of us had ever had a Coney Island Hot Dog before,” said Jacob, whose parents, Todd and Beth, started Cape Cod Beer nine years ago. “We went in with an open mind, not knowing what to expect. They were so good. In the end, I think we had six each.”
When you are in the hot dog business, research tastes good and then your own customers benefit. Cape Cod Dawgs, operating on the grounds and under the business umbrella of Cape Cod Beer in Hyannis, is a business based on that and other basic business philosophies, such as quality is important. “We use Pearl hot dogs,” said Nate Pappalardo, another co-founder.
Cape Cod Dawgs is a young business in more than one way. The business debuted on May 25, and the four co-founders, Jacob Marcus, Nate Pappalardo, Dylan Chagnon, and Jacob DiPilato are not old enough to drive. (Jacob DiPilato was not available for this interview)
“I am too old for camp, and too young to drive,” said Jacob Marcus, echoing a line from the Cape Cod Beer website about his business.
Beth Marcus, Jacob’s mom and the co-owner of Cape Cod Beer, said the boys are learning business skills, PR skills and a basic work ethic.
Cape Cod Dawgs is located in the parking lot of Cape Cod Beer on Phinneys Lane in Hyannis. In bad weather, the truck is moved to the inside beer garden.
Proving that the some PR skills have already been learned, Nate said of being their location, “It’s a friendly environment. Beer and hot dogs go well together.”
That same thought that occurred to Todd Marcus one day when he was looking around Craigslist. “My husband is a Craigslist addict,“ said Beth Marcus. “We’re always looking for inexpensive ways to buy things. We’ve bought used kegerators. Frequently we find things on Craigslist and we forward them to friends.
This spring, he forwarded a listing of a hot dog truck for sale to Beth with the note, “Jacob’s summer job.”
She wrote back, “LOL.”
He wrote back, “Not kidding.”
She walked from her office to his office at Cape Cod Beer. “The truck started everything,” said Beth.
Jacob said had been trying for a while to get a job on a Hyannis fishing boat, but he was not getting his calls returned, so he bought into the idea of the hot dog truck. “I was a little hesitant,” he said. “But after two weeks or so, it seemed like a good idea.”
He began thinking “who do I want to come work with me? Who could I work well with, who wouldn’t slack off?”
Well, there was his best friend he’d had since elementary school, Nate. And then there were those two kids he played hockey with, Dylan and Jacob.
“We picked the kids,” said Beth. “We wanted the parents involved. We wanted them to commit for the whole summer.”
At 14, there are not a lot of options so the kids were game.
“I was going to try to get a job,” said Dylan. I thought I’d do something pretty lame like busing [tables] or landscaping. I didn’t think I’d be doing this.”
Neither did anyone else, not even Beth Marcus. When Cape Cod Beer started its “beer garden” selling beer to drink on the premises, Beth Marcus wanted to find a food truck to be on the property.
But she could not get any truck to commit more than one day a week. She kept looking. Meanwhile, her husband found the truck on Craigslist, and the rest is Cape Cod entrepreneurial history.
The boys are employed by Cape Cod Beer, and earn an hourly wage plus tips. There is a separate line for profit and loss for the hot dog truck, she said.
“The boys have already asked, ‘What about when we get our licenses, can we take the truck on the road?’ ” The answer, for right now, is that the truck doesn’t even start. It has to be pushed in and out of the brewery, depending on the weather. But that is only a minor problem that should be fixed soon, said Beth.
This first summer is an educational summer to get the business started. “If in the end, they have a fleet of five hot dog stands, that’s great,” she said.
“High school teaches these kids to go to college and college teaches them to go work for a large company. No one teaches them how to start a business,” said Beth. The lessons, she added are more than just entrepreneurial. They are life lessons. “When kids learn the concept of mark-up on a pretzel, they can apply it to their lives as consumers when they consider buying any item in their own lives, she said.
She has taken the kids to restaurants, not just hot dog stands, for research. They were instructed to watch how they were waited on. “And they came back and talked about how they were greeted and the person made eye contact,” said Beth.
Dylan put it this way: “How you treat people is a huge factor in how much you are going to make.”
Another factor is the food. “We want to put our own spin on it, and have a unique stand,” said Nate. One item they sell is the “Walking Taco,” which is a bag of Fritos topped with Chili sauce, sour cream, and cheese. “You eat it right out of the bag,” he said.
For now, they sell “Just a regular dog. We put it on a steam table,” said Nate. “We might develop our own specialty hot dog, a really unique one.” The problem is that there are rules for what a 14-year-old is allowed to, and not allowed to do. “We can’t work around an open flame, we can’t fry them, and we can’t work around boiling water,” he said.
“It’s really restrictive, but we’re dealing with it,” said Nate. Thus, the steam table.
According to Jacob, they tried many different kinds of hot dogs including natural casing, no casing and regular casing. They went with Pearl natural casing and they cook them all the same way because “We want all of them to taste the same. If you get a really good hot dog and you come back the next week, you expect to get the same really good hot dog,” said Jacob.
The belief in quality is “the philosophy of my parents of and of the brewery,” he said.
According to Beth, they picked Pearl hot dogs of Randolph, Massachusetts because they wrote to a couple of companies and “the guy from Pearl wrote back and he was so passionate about his product.”
Beth is trying to get the boys to duplicate that passion for their business. “They get some inspiration in terms of understanding how a business is run,” she said of the experience for the boys.
And if at the end of the summer it doesn’t work out, she said she can recoup most of the investment.. Although they paid $6,800 for the truck, she said it should be easy to sell. “You don’t turn around without meeting someone who wants to own a food truck,” she said.
When customers find out they are 14, “a lot of people are surprised, said Dylan. “And they say it’s a great opportunity. I’ve heard that about 200 times now.”
“It’s an opportunity,” said Beth. “We don’t necessarily know where this is going to go. But the kids are definitely going to learn something from this.”
— Brian Tarcy