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How to Build a Hot Dog Cart [Cost Included]

Do you want to build a hot dog cart business? If YES, here are the steps and a cost breakdown to build a hot dog cart from scratch. Hot dog business is a very popular and successful business in the United States. To start the vending business, you will need a stand, health certificate, proper license, and many more.

The best thing about starting a hot dog business is that it is 100 percent recession proof. Remember that whatever happens, people will eat and enjoy the best food in the market. Another great thing is that it is easy to start up and you can set up it in just two weeks.

Steps to Build a Simple Hot Dog Cart 11 Steps

Currently, new hot dog stands are retailing in the range of $4,000 to $8,000 each, depending on the features. However, as a method to reduce start-up costs, consider purchasing a second hand hot dog stand or building one yourself.

Making your own hot dog stand can provide you with the opportunity to act as an entrepreneur and support yourself as a street food vendor. Once you arrange the necessary materials, it is easy to get started.

  1. Design a Frame

Note that the very first step when building a stand is to create a frame that adequately serves as an outline for the stand. You can choose a frame that is made from steel or wood. Your frame should typically be mapped out on a piece of paper or CAD software prior to beginning. This will serve as the road map for where you will place the rest of the equipment.

  1. Water Tanks

Have it in mind that fresh and waste water tanks need to be installed in most locations. For most aspiring hot dog vendors, you will be expected to have hot and cold, fresh and waste water on the stand. Note that you will also need to install basic plumbing between the tanks, typically with plastic pipes.

  1. Counter Tops and Doors

Even if you don’t need much counter and prep space while slinging hot dogs, you will have to create some room for food preparation.

For instance, if you have plans to serve Chicago-style dogs, you will need a place to assemble the pickle, tomatoes, and celery salt. Ensure that the external doors include a locking mechanism that prevents doors from swinging open when you’re in transit.

  1. Refrigerator

With a refrigerator, you can keep condiments and vegetables cool. It also offers the opportunity to increase profits for your stand. Restaurant quality mini – refrigerators can be purchased for under $500 at this time and is totally worth the investment since you will be able to add cold drinks to the mix.

Have it in mind that this is a low effort way to grow the overall customer value by $1 – $3 per person. The additional prep work for this will be minimal and all you need to do is hand customers the can or bottle.

  1. Deep Cycle Battery

Also note that you are going to need a mobile power source if you want to take this show on the road! You will need a deep cycle battery to power the refrigerator and water tanks.

  1. Propane Tank

You will need propane tanks to warm your dogs, but there is a variety of other cooking equipment you might not know about that can be powered by propane. Did you know a coffee maker or nacho cheese dispenser can be powered by propane? They can be if you purchase the right type.

  1. Steam Tables

Remember you will need to install at least two steam tables in your stand, but you will probably want even more than that. Note that steamers can be used to keep buns and sausages warm in addition to any extras you need to keep hot like chilli or nacho cheese.

  1. Waste Water Drainage and Extension Hose

Additionally, you will need a safe way to get rid of your waste water, but also an easy way to collect fresh water for tanks. Make sure to provide yourself with a few extra feet of hose, which will make refilling easier.

  1. Install Canopy or Umbrella

Most umbrellas are brightly coloured with red, white and blue colours but you can also get something custom made that better reflects your stand brand.

10. Optional Extras

You can also consider adding a stainless grill, nacho cheese dispenser and coffee maker. If you plan to include one of these extras, you will need to make space for them within the frame. A stainless grill in particular can be a nice addition because it really opens up your menu options. For example, with a grill you can start serving things like hamburgers, grilled peppers and onions.

11. Testing

After everything, you will still need to run some tests to ensure everything is working correctly before taking this stand out to customers.

Here are a few tests that should be conducted before taking your stand for its first day in business: ensuring the lights work, test pressure of propane tank, run refrigerator for at least 24 hours to ensure consistent temperatures, and of course test all the steam tables.

How Do Hot Dog Carts Make Money?

Hot dog stands generate revenue by charging a small profit margin on all food and beverages they sell. A hot dog can go for as much as $6 in a major stadium but is typically sold between $1.50 and $3 in most major cities. Chips and drinks can be sold for around $1.50.

Profits from a hot dog sale can run as high as 80 percent, though the net margin will be smaller depending on the direct costs of the stand, permit costs, commercial insurance, and kitchen space (if needed). A hot dog stand has significant growth potential, especially if owners can carve out a space for themselves in the most popular areas of a city.

3 Things to Consider Before Building Your Own Hot Dog Stand

There are three crucial factors you need consider before you decide to build your own stand. If you fail to consider each of these items, you might be wasting a lot of your own time and money.

  • Required Tools

Depending on complexity of your build out, you may need basic welding tools. But if you already have these tools, then you can go ahead with this adventure.

  • Situation

Before you purchase a manufactured stand or make it yourself, you need to understand the local laws and health regulations for operating a hot dog stand in your city or county. For instance, most cities in the united states will require that you have a stand with hot and cold water or even a 3 – compartment sink to legally operate.

Note that if you don’t figure out these important details before hand, you could end up building a stand that you will never be able to operate legally. You can contact your city hall for more information about the rules in your area.

The hot dog business is one that is been around for 100+ years so there are already clear rules for operating. If you’re not able to find the right contact in your area, try to reach out to an existing food stand business and ask how to get started in your area.

  • Time and Money

Yes, you can build your own hot dog stand without any formal experience. But do you really want to? Note that this question will completely depend upon your preferences and skill set. First, it is going to take a long time to build your own stand than buying it pre-manufactured.

If this is your first time of building a stand, it could easily take you 2 – 3 months to assemble. Even if you decide to order a kit with instructions, you might end up putting the 3-compartment sink in the wrong location or maybe your plumbing pipes won’t be long enough.

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Hot Dog Cart?

Indeed, there are endless numbers of things that could go wrong, especially if this is your first building. Additionally, depending on the stand, you could build a stand yourself for around $1,000 – $2,000. But the thing is you can often buy a comparable stand built by a professional manufacturer for $3,000 – $4,000.

Many vendors opt to have a professionally built stand and forget about the headaches associated with building something on their own. However, if you are the type of person that enjoys building things then go for it. It will probably be a fun challenge for you.


Hot dog stands are usually a more affordable alternative to opening a food truck or a small restaurant. The start-up costs can be as low as a few thousand dollars, and it may only take a few busy months to start turning a profit. However, the key is to both figure out where people will be, and how you can tempt them to give up their diets and indulge in a treat.

Since the startup costs are so low, some hot dog stand owners will use this business as their side gig to learn more about the business. It is advisable you take your time to collect careful feedback at the beginning to see which foods are selling best, and use this data to guide your menu.