Diners in downtown Franklin can find burgers and barbecue ribs, pizza or a nice steak.

But sometimes, nothing sounds better than an old-fashioned hot dog, slathered in mustard or Coney sauce and a little onion.

Among downtown’s growing number of unique restaurants and sit-down eateries, Franklin resident Josh Black is hoping to fill a niche during the lunchtime rush. He has started a hot dog cart, Hillbilly Hot Dogs, and plans to be down on the courthouse square to sell to hungry customers in a rush.

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“There’s people down at the courthouse, they’ve been there 25 years and eaten the same food. With my cart, you can just go down, grab it and go. I feel like Franklin needs something like that,” he said.

His menu starts with the basic Nekkid Dog, with no toppings at all. From there, he has envisioned different styles and toppings for his creations, such as the Betty Sue, with tomatoes and either shredded cheddar or nacho cheese. His Up Younder is a Chicago dog, with tomato, mustard, pickle spear, sport pepper and celery salt on a poppy seed bun.

With the attention he paid to his hot dogs, he also put similar thought into the toppings. Black lined up artisan ketchup and mustard from Batch No. 2, a southside-based condiment company. Produce is bought from local farmers when it can be.

The Coney dog sauce is a tangy, meaty version similar to the kind that Dog N Suds used, cooked up by Black himself.

“I’m trying to build my brand on local,” he said.

The idea had been percolating in Black’s mind for the past five years. He had always worked jobs such as construction and truck driving, so entering the food service industry was intimidating.

Not until he suffered an injury over the winter did the plans for the cart truly take shape. Black had cut his ankle after slipping on a patch of ice trying to get into his van. The wound became seriously infected, and in order to recover, he had to stay off his feet for weeks.

“Everything happens for a reason, I believe. So I devoted all my time sitting there on the couch doing all the legwork and comparing prices, doing all of the things I might not have if I was mobile,” he said.

Black contacted the Johnson County Health Department to determine what he’d need to start a cart. He needed to get permits on his menu, have his cart inspected and secure a commissary, a licensed physical location where his food would be stored and prepared.

Online, he found a simple stainless steel cart where he could steam his hot dogs on site, refrigerate tomatoes, pickles and other toppings and keep buns fresh.

He also received guidance from Ben Wilson, a Tennessee-based entrepreneur who started his own hot dog cart empire after the economic crash of 2008, and helps others find success in it as an advisor.

“Everything was laying right in place,” he said.

He did research about the types of hot dogs people liked, roping friends and family (with very little convincing) into taste tests of different brands and styles.

“It was hard work tasting all these hot dogs, but somebody had to do it,” he said.

The overwhelming response was an all-beef dog. Black was able to find the perfect product, made by Indiana-based Fisher Meats. With no nitrates or poultry added, and the small-operation hand-crafting the sausages, he felt it was ideal for a small start-up, he said.

By early May, Black had his permits in order and was ready to start serving. The next challenge was finding a spot to set up. Black couldn’t just move his cart to public sidewalks or streets; he needed to find a lot to establish himself. So he reached out to various downtown business owners.

In the meantime, he started working different community events such as Touch-A-Truck and the yard sale in the Windstar neighborhood. Slowly, his reputation grew. He was invited to do fundraisers for Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County and Franklin’s Relay for Life. Later this summer, he’ll help cater a wedding for 150 in Edinburgh.

Every Friday, he’ll be set up at the corner of Jefferson and West Court streets over the lunch hour.

Just a few months into the venture, Black is still adjusting to the momentum his business has created. For the time being, he’s maintained a singular focus for the cart — hot dogs.

“No breakfast, no brats, none of that yet. My mind was on expanding even before I started, but I had to slow myself down,” he said. “But I’d like to expand eventually, if I get there.”

At a glance

Hillbilly Hot Dogs

What: A mobile hot dog cart that will be appearing in downtown Franklin and at community events.

Who: Owned and operated by Josh and Heidi Black

Where to find it: Hillbilly Hot Dogs will be stationed at the corner of Jefferson and West Court streets from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Fridays. The cart will also be at various upcoming events, and an updated schedule can be found at facebook.com/HillbillyHotdogsFranklin

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.