Like a diamond, a hot dog comes in a variety of grades.
On the one hand, there are the pale pink ones with skins as tough as a garden hose. Then there are the plump flavor bombs sold by John Smiley, who proudly operates a shiny metal stand that has been a fixture along Townsgate Road in Thousand Oaks for a decade.
“It’s important to have the best,” Smiley said of his spiced, 100% beef hot dogs. “That’s what the people want and that’s what I’m going to give them.”
But that, according to the 50-year-old New York transplant, is just half the secret to running a successful hot dog stand. It’s also about making people feel at home, even if that home happens to be a curb.
Smiley comes from a family of vendors who perfected their trade on the bustling streets of New York City. Smiley had to make some adjustments, due to the fact that Thousand Oaks is a long way from the Big Apple.
“Back there you’ve got 10,000 people walking down the street during the day and you can count on maybe 10% of them being a customer,” he said, while serving up a link smothered in sauerkraut. “Here, it’s a little harder. . . . You’ve got to attract them, and once you attract them, you’ve got to make them want to come back.”
That means being a friend, as well as being friendly.
“Quality’s key, but so is being a people person,” he said while adjusting his trademark red porkpie hat. “Some people will just tell you what they want, then want to be left alone. But other people want to talk, so you talk and you listen.”
Although he doesn’t make a fortune on the street, Smiley is content. “It’s a good life,” he said. “I love people, so I’ve never really thought of this as a job. It’s more like fun.”