“I worked 18-hour days,” Hagarbome says. “I’d start my day in downtown Dallas in the Central Business District from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Then I would take the cart over to the West End and serve there from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Then, I would go to Lower Greenville from 11 p.m. until the bars and clubs closed.”
Within a year he had collaborated with the president of Smokin’ Joe's Inc., and soon Hagarbome was managing seven carts around the city, eventually expanding into a catering service.
Late-night revelers and downtown workers recognized his red-trimmed stands. He figured out the best places and times to peddle his Chicago-style coneys. He went from owning one cart to president and chef of Smokin’ Joe's in 16 years.
Hagarbome has been clean and sober for 25 years and, through a recovery foundation he's involved with, offers second-chance employment to those struggling to start a new life after years of addiction or with convictions that make it nearly impossible to be a part of the workforce.
"Sometimes people will belly up to the hot dog stand and tell us how bad their situation is," Hagarbome says. "We can simply tell them that there is another way to live and that they no longer have to live this way."
He says they have a strict policy that has to be followed in order for them to be part of the program. But for now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, all of those opportunities are on hold, too.
“Smokin Joe's sales in 2019 were up 20%,” Hagarbome says. “D&S Catering did unbelievable in 2019. We had 12 to 15 weddings set for 2020, banquets and other events scheduled and paid for, or at least deposits paid on these events, and that was just March through June.”
We’ve written the following words way too many times over the past few months: By March, that was all gone. Everything shut down.
“This last five months of our business has been horrible,” Hagarbome says.
He’s had to dip into savings to stay afloat. He also applied for a small business loan, but that’s disappearing rapidly. There was a ray of hope when Gov. Greg Abbott allowed bars and clubs to reopen for a few weeks starting in late May. He says sales skyrocketed. But, that was fleeting.
Now Hagarbome feels a sense of helplessness. The business he’d worked to establish the past 16 years is stuck in park.
“I’m scared for multiple reasons now. In order for clubs and bars to reopen, they either have to build a kitchen in a place that was never designed to serve food or have a permanent food truck on location at all times,” Hagarbome says.
“So now in order for us to compete, I’m forced to buy food trucks or go out of business. A semi-decent food truck starts at $40,000,” Hagarbome says, frustrated.
Similar to bars throughout the state, this hot dog vendor is forced to sit on the sidelines and hope when all the smoke clears, his business is still there.
There are two locations where you can grab a Smokin' Joe's now: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday at Strokers Dallas (9304 Harry Hines Blvd. in Northwest Dallas) and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at U.S. Foods Chef's Store (4240 Alpha Road in Farmers Branch).
Follow the Smokin' Joe's Facebook page for more information about hours and future locations.