Holland Shuts Down 13-Year-Old's Hot Dog Cart

NetherlandsDoug Johnson

A 13-year-old's ambition to run a hot dog cart in Holland is stirring up some controversy. 

The city shut him down because of zoning restrictions.

Both the teen and his parents are disappointed, especially because of why he decided to buy the cart in the first place.

Nathan Johnson Duszynski's parents are both on disability, his mom for epilepsy and his dad for M.S. 

Nathan thought the hot dog cart would be a good way to make some money for his family and had the blessing of a business owner to help him do it, until the city stepped in.

"You fill this up with water," says Nathan, the young Holland entrepreneur. "You boil the hot dogs on the bottom at 245-degrees."

His business plan was to make money and save for college, getting the idea to start a business from his father, Doug Johnson. 

Nathan says, "I was standing in my Dad's living room one day and he was talking to me about how when he was a kid, he was delivering 300 newspapers before he went to school everyday."

So, Nathan pitched the idea to his parents who helped him talk to the mayor and other city leaders.

He got a permit from the county and the health department to operate in the parking lot of Reliable Sports, securing permission from owner Ken Vos, his mentor. 

"Ken's been a Godsend to my son," says Lynette Johnson, Nathan's Mom. "And Nate in turn was going to promote his bike rental business for him, by hanging signs on his cart."

But, on his first day, a zoning official marched across the street and shut him down, leaving Nathan confused and a bit down on himself.

"Mad and kind of sad," said Nathan. "Last time I went to the city council meeting, they were encouraging me to set up here."

Assistant City Manager Greg Robinson says even though Nathan's family met with city leaders, they didn't know the parking lot was in a zoning district where food carts are banned. 

Robinson says the clerk's office didn't have Nathan's number, so he never got the message the city was saying no go. Robinson says the clerk left a message with an employee at Reliable Sports because the owner wasn't available. However Nathan didn't get that information.

FOX 17 pointed out to Assistant Manager Greg Robinson the confusion created about why the city said 'no' to the teen, when he's doing a positive thing.

Robinson replied, "it is a positive thing he's trying to do, it's just that no matter what the age is, that type of use is not permitted in that zoning district."

Nathan can request zoning changes although Robinson says there are many groups that have a say over the process in that particular downtown business area. He says one of those groups is the Downtown Development Authority.

When pointing out that the process seemed like a lot of roadblocks for a 13 year old, Robinson replied:

"Yeah, and I think you know, when you just think about a 13-year-old trying to do a hot dog stand, yes it can seem like, 'yes come on, he's 13 years old'. Yes but, if someone comes in and we have this downtown, where others have wanted to do food carts, food wagons, we've told them, you cannot do that, in that zone district, and so how do you say to a 13-year-old, well yes you can because you're 13."

Nathan's plan right now is to sell his hot dog stand and try to come back bigger and better at 14-years-old.

"We want to go to Lansing to change the law so I can work instead of keeping kids my age from doing things like this they want to do," says Nathan.

Nathan's family says they will also make an appeal to the city of Holland. 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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