Nathan Beck aka Natedogs, is known around town as the wiener guy. He is passionate, outgoing and always remembers your name or where he met you for the first time (we still don’t know how he does that). Not only is he all over the state serving up high quality, locally made wieners, Nate is a father of five girls and a husband to his lovely wife who you will serving up hot dogs as well. Nate is driven by providing a delicious product, giving to charity and running his business that is built on integrity. In our interview, Nate shares how he started Natedogs, his passion for style and how to make and enjoy the perfect wiener.
So Nate, tell us how everything started.
When I started prior to opening Natedogs I used to manage two high quality shoe stores who used carried only Birkenstocks. I had been in retail for a long time so I always enjoyed dressing up, clothes, all of that stuff. Greg and I have a lot of that in common, we’re both dorks about that stuff. I have always loved shoes especially, leather goods, anything like that. Birkenstocks were really cool because they fit that niche, I liked working for a company with a lot of history, stuff that has nostalgia to it, craft, that’s all very high quality, everything about it appealed to me, and it was a cool shop. Towards the end, it wasn’t nearly as fun, but I wanted to actually buy the stores, take them over, rebrand them and keep them in that same niche. The guy I worked for really wanted his kids to take it over and as I started to see that I had to do something on my own. I cooked for a while, I had done amateur chef stuff on the side, and I would cater for church events, dinner parties, that kind of stuff just for fun. And then I realized that I was probably going to be out of a job, I was like well I don’t really want to work for somebody else, so lets see if we can do something fun.
So a couple of food trucks had started in 2010, like Chef Shack. They had been at the Mill City Museum and farmers markets for a while, maybe two to three years prior to that. World Street Kitchen had started in 2010; the Turkey To-Go guys were out there. So, I met with them, took a peek at how they were doing it. I thought it would be a lot of fun doing it because it fits a lot of my personality strengths very well, but as we started looking at investing and starting a business I realized that it was very important for me to start with little to no debt and to have something that hasn’t been done in the Twin Cities. Hot dogs are far and away my favorite food. Like on the about page of my website, I talk about eating tons of foot longs at the State Fair. They’re one of my favorite things, I love hot dogs. People know me as a foodie, so when I tell them that my favorite food is hot dogs they’re like what?! But, they’re my favorite food.
What’s the story behind your cart?
So, I started looking at hot dog carts and thought, maybe I could afford to do a hot dog cart? It was actually my wife that came up with that idea. She said, “Honey, what about a cart?” So I started researching carts, I found a company that made highest quality cart I could find and would fit all the state guidelines I needed to follow for licensing and what not. Then I got a chance to work with a really cool local designer named Jeff Holmberg. He designed Dogwood’s packaging, branding and all their stuff, did a bunch of stuff for Rustica. So all of his aesthetic of what he liked to design really fit the niche of what I wanted the business to look like. I wanted the logo and overall branding to look very 30s and 40s baseball. A really nostalgic kind of cursive script, simple, very clean looking logo. As we started planning it, I was like wow we could actually do this! So my job came to an abrupt end in March, I took April to get ready then in May 2011 we took off with no safety net, no nothing. It is now the start of my fourth season with Natedogs, but as we started Natedogs I wanted to make sure that I had the highest quality product on hand, but still have a hot dog that a foodie or food snob would say that it’s really high quality stuff, but your average person who doesn’t give a rip about heritage breed, organic locally raised pork would eat and say, whoa that’s a really great hot dog. It was very important to me to catch both ends of that spectrum. I worked at every possible place I could find to simply get my name out there, but one niche that really helped me grow was when I started making mustards out of local beers because at the time the food trucks were really blossoming, all of the taprooms were starting to buzz. Like back to 2011 when Surly worked to pass the law so tap rooms could open in Minneapolis and right about that time these tap rooms opened up within the year and early spring of the next year then suddenly we were super busy because we were constantly serving at these tap rooms. Now I have a product that I am making from their product to serve on my hotdogs, so it became a great partnership. It was very important to me in starting the business, if you don’t base your business on relationships with your vendors or with your customers you’ve got squat. No matter what you do whether it is hot dogs, if you produce software, if you’re in advertising, if you don’t have those cool relationships and great friendships you’ve got nothing.
So one of my favorite things about the business is when you come to my cart, you’ll be standing on one side of the cart, and I will be serving hot dogs on the other and we can still be interacting, I can still be serving, we can still be having a conversation, you still feel part of the group. Where as when you approach a food truck or in a restaurant there’s either a counter, a window and you’re elevated up so can’t really comfortably talk, you don’t really have an interaction with the customer. My favorite part about actually having a cart even with all of it’s limitations, it creates much more of a theater aspect, and having a degree in music and a background in theater, that fits all of those same strengths. So when people come up to the cart, we put on a show, we make them feel welcome. I try and remember as many names as possible.
We don’t know how the hell you do that…
Because that’s a huge thing in business when you remember somebody’s name or if you say I met you at such and such event, I’m sorry I don’t remember your name, but I know we talked about this. Even that is enough to have people go, “dude, that’s awesome!” You know, it’s a small thing, but it really makes people feel special. It all adds into that relationship. For me, I am using this business as a way to engage and reach people, touch a nerve emotionally and get them involved in something that is more that just food. Because when you go to a cool restaurant, it’s rarely about the food. If they create an environment that is really special, you go back regardless if the food is the best or not. For instance, like a Mickey’s Diner or an Al’s Breakfast.
Charity is very important to you, right? Could you tell us why and how it integrates into your business?
I originally was planning to give away the value of one hot dog for every hot dog I sell to charity. You run out of places you can serve free hot dogs and there are only so many hours in a day. Due to the restrictions in the licensing around my truck, I wasn’t able to sell hot dogs inside local taprooms, but instead I sold everything for charity. I don’t know if that is technically legal or not, but I’ll wait to the city tells me to stop. Now we have decided to do all of our charitable partnerships with Feed My Starving Children in Coon Rapids where I live. With that, I can donate one meal for every hot dog I sell and we’re almost to 30,000 meals donated in two and a half years. I’m hoping to donate another 10,000 - 15,000 meals this year. It’s important for me to show my kids that giving is important, even when things are tight, but it just feels really good to give stuff away.
When I looked to start Natedogs, one of the things that I remember seeing was SurlyFest in 2010. I thought to myself, how cool would it be if I could do SurlyFest with my hot dog cart? In the first month that I opened the hot dog cart, we had the idea to make is as charitable as we possibly could and still survive. So it was the second week of May in 2010 when the tornadoes went through North Minneapolis, my wife said to me that we should go out and serve food to these families whose houses are destroyed. We did three to four days of serving with a couple other trucks and evidently someone from Surly came by and saw us serving food then invited us to participate in the Surly Power of the Pint Party. When we started the business we said that if this business is going to work people will appreciate who we are, the path we’re trying to forge and we are going to work really really really hard, but it has to authentic and genuine. I didn’t want to be the guy out there who was calling people asking to set up in their business because to me that it becomes too aggressive it makes me nuts. So it all started at Surly, we got to know a few people there, and then it all grew organically. Since day one I have not called, asked or e-mailed anyone to be a part of an event.
Tell us about your mustards!
I have one packaged mustard now, I intended to release another last year, but the catering became such big part of my business that I had no time to release a second product. I did twenty-three weddings as the late night snack last year, eight graduation parties and catering all these lunches so it ended up we were just trying to survive. Being a dad with five girls and a husband it ends up being a lot. Hopefully now with getting both carts going and I have an employee to go out and to the cart while I do something else will hopefully free me up to develop that side of the business. I would like to release a series of beer mustards. We pretty much have everything to go for that I just have to pull the trigger and get them all approved which is just time. Also, I will have to figure out how I will produce them whether it will be me or someone else.
I’ve got a new topping that is a spicy chili relish that people love! I could package that also. The sweet, tangy slaw is something else I would like to package and sell. I want to be smart in the whole process so it will need to build and grow with time.
I would also like to brand the hot dogs with my logo also. You can get their brats and such and a few local grocery stores and co-ops, but now that the cart has a nice following the Natedogs logo would be great on them. I’m wouldn’t make much on them, but it would be cool to help them get more exposure as well as to tell people where they can go pick up my hot dogs.
Where are your mustards available now?
Would you work with them to make your own specific dog?
Yeah! Right now they’re already making my brats specific to me.
What is the best way to experience a hot dog in your opinion?
There are lots of different toppings that can be good on a hot dog, but I always like to keep things simple. So, maybe two toppings at most and some type of sauce like mustard. Otherwise you end up overpowering the flavor of the hot dog.
The basics are, find the highest quality, cheap hot dog bun you can find. What I mean by this is that best, highest quality white, soft and squishy hot dog bun because when you bite that hot dog you want that bun to seamlessly fuse with the hot dog and all of the condiments.
Then you want to sparingly top the hot dog so you down drown the hot dog. I don’t particularly care for a Chicago Dog, the flavor is fine, but there is too much on the dog so you can’t eat everything all together, it makes a huge mess.
My favorite way is a classic Natedog wiener, the honey spice mustard that gives it that sweet and sour zing with just enough heat so its not overpowering and the salty, buttery caramelized onions. You get the salty and the sweet.
Ugh, that sounds incredible! So what’s your drink at Urban Bean?
Good cup of pour over, I like to keep it simple.
credits: photos by Eliesa Johnson