Elevate the hot dog: Let’s Be Frank to launch Thursday
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • January 15, 2013 @ 11:30am
Crowd-sourcing money for food trucks has been a trendy approach in Western New York lately, and that’s not altogether a bad thing. Small business and urban progress are two things that Buffalonians are willing to support, and food trucks have benefited repeatedly from forward-thinking citizens who back Kickstarter campaigns.
Let’s Be Frank food truck owner Frank Tripi and his business partner-fraternal twin Paul Tripi wanted to avoid that route, however. When Buffalo’s first gourmet hot dog truck opens on Thursday outside the First Niagara Center for lunch, Tripi will realize a dream that’s demanded patience and pride.
“I didn’t want to borrow money from a bank or ask for money [through a funding platform or his dad] to start a business,” Tripi explained. “It’s not my personality. I want to put a concept to work, and I don’t want to feel like I owe anybody. Now there’s a stronger sense of accomplishment.”
A graduate of SUNY Geneseo in 2007, Frank Tripi earned multiple business degrees but found himself working feverishly in the food industry. He honed his skills in New York City restaurants, ran an eatery in the Hamptons, then returned to Buffalo to work as a waiter and bartender at Sinatra’s as he patched together his food truck business plan. To raise more funds, Tripi toiled at banks and even at a trucking company to pursue his food truck dreams.
Over five years later, Tripi was comfortable with his business concept, then acquired a 1999 truck with low mileage from the owner of Mediterranean restaurants in New York City. The truck’s makeover included a generator upgrade and the order of locally-designed logos from Wild Art in West Seneca, adding style to the exterior surrounding a commercial kitchen equipped with a fryer, flat-top grill, a steam table and a refrigeration unit.
“I like to refer to it as a hot dog cart on steroids,” Tripi joked in our phone conversation today.
Hot dogs are a saturated product in Buffalo—vendor carts are scattered throughout the downtown area, grilling Wardynski’s, Zweigle’s and Sahlen’s for business folk, visitors and students. Tripi is entirely aware of this, however, and his plans are to “elevate an American classic to gourmet status,” separating himself through quality of product, open hours, creativity and mobility.
“All of our sauces will be homemade,” said Tripi, who plans on using exclusively Sahlen’s hot dogs to begin. “Our bread will be baked daily by a local company, and people will be hard-pressed to find anything like this in Buffalo.”
While business partner Paul—a Canisius College and UB Law School graduate—handles the finances and marketing behind Let’s Be Frank, Frank Tripi, a former St. Joe’s basketball standout, embraces the role of “idea guy,” manifested—at least at first—in hot dog toppings. Here are two examples Tripi mentioned:
1) Violet Beauregarde: House-made blueberry barbecue sauce, onion crunch and cheddar on a Sahlen’s hot dog.
2) Proud Mary: Bacon-wrapped Sahlen’s hot dog, Tijuana hot cream cheese and caramelized onions.
Tripi continued by noting that Let’s Be Frank will concoct its own veggie dogs as well as offer hand-cut fries cooked Belgian-style and served with house-made aiolis (think Blue Monk). Sweet potato fries—typically covered in honey or cinnamon—will be coated in cilantro, lime and garlic by the Tripi brothers.
The twins are still working out a schedule, but they’re planning on serving near the medical campus—between Roswell Park and Buffalo General Hospital—on Friday, Larkin Square on Monday and outside of UNYTS, 110 Broadway St., Buffalo, on Tuesday.
Unlike many hot dog carts, Let’s Be Frank will vend late-night on weekends as well—near the strip of bars on Hertel and outside of Cecelia’s Ristorante, 716 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, appear to be the early candidates.
“We’ll be out seven days a week,” Tripi noted, and he’s eager to traverse the suburbs as well—even though he hopes for a flat fee required for serving in the suburbs rather than a number of differing permits.
Will Tripi’s patience pay off? He defined the days prior to opening as “nerve-racking,” and he’ll have to work constantly to separate himself from Buffalo’s hot dog vendors. Creativity and perseverance will be vital for this entrepreneur, but he’s taken the time to prepare.