Hot Dogs in Naperville Huh? Get Yer Red … Tape

Longtime Naperville resident Joe Hornbaker, 29, was granted a one-year trial permit by the city of Naperville to open a hot dog stand downtown. His permit now allows him to sell through May 1. | Danielle Gardner~Sun-Times Media
Longtime Naperville resident Joe Hornbaker, 29, was granted a one-year trial permit by the city of Naperville to open a hot dog stand downtown. His permit now allows him to sell through May 1. | Danielle Gardner~Sun-Times Media

By Jenette Sturges | Naperville Sun

Joe Hornbaker just wants to sell hot dogs.

But to do that, the owner of Joey’s Red Hots, the hot dog stand wheeled to the edge of the Riverwalk each summer afternoon, also has had to battle his way through the red tape of the Naperville City Council.

Hornbaker first requested a permit for his stand in April 2009. Since then, he’s received a year-long temporary permit, followed by a 90-day extension of that permit, then an extension through the end of this year.

“I’m glad they let me keep working,” said Hornbaker.

Throughout, the City Council has been beside itself on the issue of whether mobile vending carts have an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar stores and restaurants downtown. In the same vote that extended the permit for Joey’s Red Hots through Dec. 31, the council also established a bidding process that would allow other restaurants to move in on mobile cart territory.

But because none of the city’s restaurants, including some of those that initially expressed interest or balked at Hornbaker’s cart, submitted requests to get in on the mobile vending cart game, that bidding process has been extended into next year.

So, too, has Hornbaker’s permit, for the third time. He’ll be allowed to serve up his dogs until May 1.

But Hornbaker said he’s not getting frustrated.

“I understand all their concerns,” he said. “But it doesn’t really seem like too many other people are interested in it, so I don’t understand the big deal.”

In the meantime, his winter season is a bit slow for business, but on nice nights, he still caters to the hungry evening crowd.

“I still sell hot dogs in the cold, just bundled up. It’s really slowed down with the weather, but something is better than nothing.”

Come spring, when other businesses might get their mobile vending cart proposals in and hit the streets, Hornbaker said he’ll welcome the competition.

“I hope other people apply,” he said. “It can do nothing but bring more people to the downtown Naperville area.”