Hot dogs have a special place in the hearts and stomachs of Bayonne residents. Even Mayor James Davis referenced memories of hot dogs and Yoo-Hoo from his childhood in his State of the City Address.One hot dog stand on Avenue E in Bayonneby the 34th Street Light Rail station holds onto that tradition. It’s revered not just for its $5 special – three dogs, two toppings wrapped in aluminum foil with a drink – but for the friendly neighborhood man who sells them outside his home under a classic yellow-and-blue Sabrett umbrella: Alex De Jesus.
“I don’t think I invented the hot dog, but I did reinvent the way the hot dog should be,” De Jesus said. “There’s an experience with it that when you come here and enjoy a hot dog and have a Yoo-Hoo, you get a flashback of when you were 11 years old.”
Mr. Mom, an atypical entrepreneur
De Jesus’s eyes don’t flash dollar signs with each hot dog sale; he’s not that kind of entrepreneur.His eyes are fixed on the smiles of customers and his children, a 6-year old son and 13-year-old daughter he drives to school and picks up every day. The stand enables him to be the kind of parent and community member he wants to be.
“This doesn’t pay the bills,” said De Jesus, who has a degree in computer science. “What this allows me to be is Mr. Mom. It’s not how much money I make, it’s how much money I save. I save money in after care, before care, child care. Anything that has to do with care costs money now. It used to just be love.” Between selling dogs, he makes sure the house is clean, laundry is done, and food is ready for his kids when they get home from school. “This way I know their homework is finished,” he said. “Then in the morning I take them to school and set up shop until I pick them up.”
De Jesus considers himself in a “semi-retired mode.” He opened the stand outside his home three years ago after his IT job was outsourced, and he was laid off by UBS, where his wife, who he said “brings home the bacon,” still works.He said he plans on going back to work once his kids are independent.
“The day I got laid off was the same day my wife told me she was pregnant,” he said. “So it was a little bit of mixed emotions there. Next thing you know I started setting up shop.”
De Jesus made only $17 in six hours his first day on the job. The next day he made just $9, but he said his confidence never waned. “If you build it, they’ll come,” he said.
De Jesus is more than just Mr. Mom and a hot dog salesman. He engages with and protects his community in ways only someone who mans a street corner for hours every day could. “I was able to thwart about seven crimes already in three years by just having my presence here,” he said. He’s caught people trying to jimmy a neighbor’s lock, steal a bicycle, and tamper with mail. “It’s a way of giving back to the community, and it’s a way of meeting great people and doing great things in town.”
“Alex is a great guy, great for the community. He’s got great dogs. They’re always fresh. He’s always here, and you can always count on him.It’s roadside service. How can you beat it?” – Eddie O’Neil
The customer experience
A line of cars formed next to his stand. “Hey boss, how you doing,” De Jesus asked Eddie O’Neil when he pulled up on his way home from IMTT. “Three mustard and kraut and a black cherry,” he ordered.
“Alex is a great guy, great for the community,” O’Neil said. “He’s got great dogs. They’re always fresh. He’s always here, and you can always count on him.It’s roadside service. How can you beat it?”
Another customer, Shavelle Scott, who works at Bayonne Medical Center as a sterile processing technician, just got off the light rail at the 34th Street Station. She said she comes to De Jesus’s stand as often as she can. “I always get the straight up chili,” she said.“Always a good price. It’s right here, so I can grab it on the way.”
Cold winters, hot dogs
“That’s my latest and greatest of saving up,” De Jesus said, pointing to a new yellow winterized food stand parked in his driveway. After three years on the job during temperate months, this will be his first winter on the job. “I can stand inside here and stay warm. It’s going to be good. I’m excited.”
“Just wait until he gets this stand where he’s out in the winter,” Eddie O’Neil said. “I can get a hot chocolate.”
De Jesus laughed. “Oh, no, no, no,” he said.“See that, man? See what you started?” De Jesus is not planning on hot chocolate. “I was thinking more about apple cider.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at email@example.com.