The distinct smells of cooking hot dogs and onions came from a new business with a quirky name — The Keener Weener.
Craig resident Murray Fenstermacher parked his truck Friday nearby.
As Fenstermacher walked to the small hot dog stand in the parking lot of the Centennial Mall, his Pomeranian dog, Alvin, began to bark from inside the car.
“He wants one with everything on it,” Fenstermacher said with a laugh to the staff of The Keener Weener.
Craig resident Dawn Vezie snapped to action and quickly prepared Fenstermacher’s real order — a chili cheese dog with extra cheese and a regular hot dog for Alvin.
The 49-year-old Vezie has operated The Keener Weener since October.
“I wanted my own business and I knew I could do food,” she said. “It was difficult with the licensing and all, but I had some help from some friends and didn’t stop until it got done.
“So, here I am.”
Vezie said she usually keeps her stand open Tuesday though Saturday, but that depends on “the weather or life.”
“This is like a pretty cool place to get hot dogs, actually,” said Fenstermacher, a diesel mechanic. “It’s like the only place that’s got real dogs, you know, old style-type cooking.”
But, The Keener Weener isn’t just franks.
Vezie said she has an expanding menu of Philly Cheesesteaks, meatballs, fajitas and bratwursts, among others.
The idea to start a hot dog stand, Vezie said, is a combination of an employment history in the food service industry and an entrepreneurial spirit.
The idea came to her at a gas station in Larkspur about two years ago.
“Right off of the highway, there was a young man with a hot dog stand, and we like to support small businesses and so we stopped and we got hot dogs from him,” she said.
Vezie said she couldn’t help but strike up a conversation with the young man as her interest was piqued.
“I asked him how he was doing because it looked like it was dead,” she said. “There was nobody around and there wasn’t a chance of business, but he said he was paying his college tuition with it.”
Struck by the concept and the young man’s success, the idea festered inside Vezie.
“I’m a mom, I know what’s easy,” she said. “To me, I know how to do food more than I would retail.”
Since opening, residents’ response to Vezie’s business has been positive and she has had many return customers, she said.
Vezie said her first customer after opening the stand was an elderly lady that “just absolutely loved hot dogs.”
“People like the idea that someone is doing something on their own instead of a corporation,” she said. “You know, a small business, entrepreneurial-type thing.”
Fenstermacher agreed, adding that Vezie’s reputation has spread in the community.
“I hope she does really good with it,” she said. “My friends, everybody calls her the hot dog lady. So, she is getting pretty well known in town.”
The secret to her success, she said, is multi-faceted.
It is not just getting an authentic hot dog, or getting away from corporate fast food chains, but having a lunchtime dialogue with residents.
“It’s the personal touch, I think,” she said.
“I really enjoy it because when I come out the people are so nice,” she said.
There is a bit of a romantic notion to the idea of a hot dog stand, Vezie said.
“Stands like (this) are part of American history, you know with the immigrants coming over,” she said. “They just are. One of my friends had said that when she was growing up in Steamboat (Springs), there was a stand on every corner.
“And that’s been lost with regulations and big government.”
Although Vezie said a hot dog stand seems out of place in cold, blustery, rural Colorado, she has plans to take her stand on the road — to become a traveling hot dog saleswoman, of sorts.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she said with a laugh. “I wanted to go to Sturgis, but it was too late by the time I got it.
“To me, it represents that I can go anywhere I want and have an income.”