I Spent a Day Selling Vegan Hot Dogs With Yeah Dawg Vegan
All photos by Chris Packham
Marina Bennedetto, proprietor of pop-up vegan hot dog stand Yeah Dawg Vegan, speaks in half-punctuated fusillades of clauses, like this: "With a truck, you still need to rent a kitchen, plus you have to do all the permitting, and, like, dealing with the city and parking hassles, so doing a pop-up cart is still less trouble, even though you have to load so much food, and, like, equipment and try to remember everything you need to bring, it's still a lot of work."
She forgot to load the sauerkraut, two big institutional buckets of pickled cabbage she makes herself at a commercial culinary space called Hana Kitchens in Sunset Park, and we're racing back to her place 30 minutes before the monthly Vegan Shop-Up is set to open at the Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick. And she keeps apologizing to me. "I'm so sorry, I meant to be on top of everything today." And at every ill-timed stop light, she says, "I'm so sorry." She has nothing to be sorry about.
Bennedetto was a vegetarian at 12, vegan at 18. Through grade school, she'd trade the turkey sandwiches her mom packed for peanut butter. She went for Gender Studies at Rutgers, then did social work as a counselor at a shelter for homeless youth. Eventually, she started cooking vegan food for the residents. "You have to cook for people with so many different kinds of health problems, and you have to learn how to do that while making everything taste good," she says.
She was laid off when the economy exploded and burned up everyone's money, and after a stint of unemployment, she decided to put all of her energy into starting a vegan food business. She never complains about the labor-intensive nature of her startup venture, or the economic collapse that cratered her social work career. She's considering a culinary future in a storefront someplace, but likes the idea of a cart at the beach.
She sets up shop at the Pine Box every month, and this is the first Saturday she's been able to work outside in months. "When you're inside, it's toward the back of the space, and it's harder for people to find you," she says. I'm working a shift at Yeah Dawg, and this is my job: I'm responsible for the taking money, making change, and shielding the bills from the gale force winds blowing down the street. It's one of those late-winter days that only looks nice, the wind is unrelenting, and Earth's axial tilt is such that the sun never once shines on our side of the street the whole day. I wore my scarf, but I keep hoping for some cataclysmic event to knock the planet's obliquity off 22 degrees. Or a warmer coat.
Bennedetto prepares various kinds of fake bacon, sometimes with shiitake, but today's is coconut-based. "What's in it?" I ask. She rattles off a couple of ingredients, and tells me I can find recipes on the Internet. It doesn't taste exactly like regular hog bacon, but it's crunchy and satisfyingly glutamate-y, and I end up covering my own hot dog with it.
The hot dogs are soy-free, made from vegetables, seeds, gluten-free flour, herbs, and spices, and she's constantly brushing them down with marinade while they grill. They're really good, and she's packed about 200 of them in a cooler for the afternoon.
Bennedetto runs a lean operation out of necessity, often recruiting friends and family to help at events. My coworker today turns out to be Kerrie Ann Murphy, a singer originally from South London, who I hear misidentified by worldly customers as Jamaican or Australian several times. She buries the dogs Bennedetto grills in sauerkraut, pickles, and homemade condiments like cashew mayo and curry ketchup.
By noon, we've accumulated a line, and business will be unceasing for the rest of the afternoon. "Is this, like, a normal day?" I ask.
"Yeah, I guess. It's usually a little more, but, like, with the truck out here, today, y'know?"
She's talking about the Cinnamon Snail Vegan Organic food truck parked directly across the sidewalk from the Yeah Dawg stand. Cinnamon Snail serves a whole breakfast/lunch/dinner menu of vegan food that helps you transform into a being of pure light who can serve all living creatures simultaneously and eternally. By which I mean it says right there on the side of the truck:
The truck is parked directly across from the Yeah Dawg stand. Normally, my alignment is solidly pro-vegan-food-truck -- I even thought about buying one of their breakfast burritos on the general principle that everything is delicious when wrapped in a tortilla, and I figure that if I became a being of pure light, I could fuck some shit up. Or at least shine down some warmth on the shady side of the street. They do excellent business, and their line extends halfway down the block. And the Cinnamon Snail people are actually super-nice.
But I'm on Team Hot Dog, so I'm silently rooting against the Cinnamon Snail Vegan Organic food truck today with the same internalized resentment I harbored toward coaches and teachers as a teenager (I was a brooder; too introverted for rebellion).
Yeah Dawg is available at culinary events around the city, and Bennedetto takes bookings if you'd like her to come to one of your own white-glove functions. You can hit her up on Facebook.
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