A familiar face, a Chicago taste

Published 4:05 pm Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Hot Dog Kart in St. Joseph has been in business in the same spot for 27 years. Photo by Katie Johnson


Hot dog vendors aren’t an unusual sight in downtowns across America, but the same cart, on the same corner, with the same owner, for 27 years?
Meet Ben Yacobozzi.
The Coloma resident has owned The Hot Dog Kart, at the corner of State and Broad streets in St. Joseph, since its beginnings on a bicycle in 1984. One of his children was a college student when her summer employer closed its doors. Yacobozzi recalled the hot dog street vendors of his youth, and so the business venture was born.
“We researched it and ended up at Chicago in the Vienna (hot dog) factory,” Yacobozzi said. They spent the day learning about the art of the hot dog.
The Hot Dog Kart began on a bicycle, but Vienna recommended having a cart in the same spot at the same time, so people know where to find it.
Three of Yacobozzi’s four children worked the cart for 11 years during the summers. When the last one graduated from college, Yacobozzi was retired from the St. Joseph Fire Department, so he took over the business.
Now, he is planning to pass the family business along to his grandson, Nick Yacobozzi, of St. Joseph.
“I’m working on a third generation here,” he said. “I’ve been here 27 years. People come from all over the world, mainly because of Whirlpool (headquartered in Benton Harbor).
“It’s a lot of work, but I really enjoy the people,” Yacobozzi said.
Nick, a well-mannered 13-year-old who mans the beverage cooler while Ben tends to the hot dogs, says he enjoys working with his grandfather and “meeting a lot of nice people down here.”
Ben Yacobozzi lived as a small child in Chicago, but moved to the St. Joseph area and has lived here since.
He says he only uses premium produce and Vienna beef hot dogs. He has tried other brands and prefers Vienna, along with the signiture bright green relish and other Chicago-style ingredients.
“It’s still the best hot dog you can get,” he said.
About three-fourths of customers order a Chicago-style dog, with mustard, relish, onion, tomatoes, pickles and hot peppers, Yacobozzi said.
Mike Tomaszewski and Sal Terracciano, both of Chicago, visited The Hot Dog Kart one Saturday noon hour.
“It’s a good sign when Chicago people stop,” Terraciano said.
“You can’t pass up a cart like this,” Tomaszewski said with a laugh.
Gred Lueck, of South Elgin, Ill., said he stops every time he visits St. Joseph.
“I have to have my fix,” he said while waiting in line for his dog. “We’ve come up here about five years, and we have to stop here when we get here.”
Hotdogs are $2.75 any way you like them; pop and water are $1; and chips are 75 cents.
The Hot Dog Kart is open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 seven days a week from May through August, always at the corner of State and Broad streets in downtown St. Joseph.