At Businessing Magazine, we’re always looking to hear from entrepreneurs who are challenging the status quo and doing things differently. Keith Dorman of Snap Dog is one such entrepreneur. He is on a mission to elevate the average New York City hot dog from the “dirty water” dog people usually associate with hot dog carts to his 100% premium beef hot dogs in natural casings. Every Snap Dog is “branded” with the company logo and the word “beef” in the hot dog casing, using no dyes or colorings, so consumers know exactly what they are getting when they bite into a Snap Dog.
Revolutionary food trends are a part of Dorman’s DNA. His great-grandfather, Nathan Dorman, was the founder of Dorman’s Cheese Company and delivered milk, eggs and cheese by horse and buggy in New York City in the late 1800s. His grandfather, Victor Dorman, was the first to put paper between slices of cheese, forever altering the packaging of cheese products.
Keith Dorman himself was a child actor in the 1980s. He later worked as a hot dog cart vendor in New York City and as a restauranteur on Long Island. During his time as a mobile food vendor, he learned that when it came to street hot dogs, many vendors were selling the cheapest products on the market, with little regard for quality. Dorman developed hot dogs using only premium beef and top-end spices. He cooks them the old-fashioned way, in a smokehouse, never using liquid smoke for flavoring.
Dorman currently sells his hot dogs from carts throughout New York City, as well as through his company’s online store. Find out more about Snap Dog at their website, and read on as he answers the questions Businessing had about his innovative business and about the food industry in general.
What makes your hot dogs and sausages different, and what hole are your products filling in the marketplace?
We use premium cuts of beef in our beef-block and we smoke our hot dogs in a real smokehouse. A heat-activated Snap Dog logo and the word “beef” appear on every single hot dog and sausage.
People want to know what they’re eating. When you buy a hot dog in public, especially off the street in NYC, you never know what you’re getting. With snap dog, the mystery is solved, every time.
How did you come up with the idea to “brand” your hot dogs and sausages, and how has that been received by consumers?
I sold hot dogs on 55th and Columbus and noticed other vendors were advertising beef brands, but really selling hot dogs made from mechanically-separated chicken. This compelled me to find a way to protect the consumer from eating pulverized chicken bones, chicken skin, and chicken blood-vessels.
We were concerned consumers might feel funny about eating something with a name on it, but consumers seem to favor having peace of mind when it comes to their food. The fact that there are no dyes or colorings on the hot dog also puts people’s minds at ease.
At what point did you enter the online marketplace, and how important are online sales to your business?
Snap Dog’s online store started about a year ago. Our t-shirt sales have been robust. But, since hot dogs are perishable, the expedited shipping costs make them rather expensive for the average consumer. We haven’t focused on online sales as much as our 25+ carts in and around New York City.
What has been the most challenging aspect of working in the food industry?
Since so many food start-ups fail, so convincing people that we won’t be just another statistic has been challenging.
What are your goals for Snap Dog? Where do you see the company in 5-10 years?
Currently, Snap Dog is focused on getting people to try our product and recognize its quality from the 25+ carts we have up and running. Our short term goal is to increase our presence on the streets in and around New York City. Our medium-sized goal is to develop relationships with food wholesalers and distributors, such as Restaurant Depot. Our longer term goal is to be in every supermarket in America. And, 10 years from now, I hope to be sponsoring the college bowl game, “Snap Dog Bowl!”
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who want to bring a food product to market?
Have passion about your product. Do your homework. As painful as it might be, write your business plan and have folks in the industry review it. And, most of all, don’t get discouraged by the many people who will say, “We don’t have time for an account your size.” Instead, use it as motivation to become big!