Doing my job

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July 12, 2004 // UPDATED 2:30 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Sung and Yong Yu, Hot dog entrepreneurs, 7th Street & Nicollet Mall

Since 1992, Sung and Yong Yu have run the hot dog cart on the corner of 7th Street & Nicollet Mall.

Originally from South Korea, they moved to Minnesota 18 years ago, Sung Yu said. He worked in a fast food restaurant before getting the hot dog cart. They seem to have a prime spot, located at the confluence of the IDS tower and City Center.

"It looks simple. It's an awful lot of work," Sung Yu said.

The menu is simple; Sung Yu said it hasn't really changed in 12 years. With today's prices, the fare is: Polish, $3.50; beef hot dog, $3; hot dog, $2; pop, $1; chips, $.50; and spring water, $1.

So what is the hardest part of the job? Sung Yu hesitates to answer until Yong Yu says something under her breath. Sung Yu smiles.

"Pushing the cart," he says, explaining they have a storage locker on 4th Street and have to push the old-style, heavy cart into position each day.

They work April to October, he said. They work weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. -- closing only after scrubbing the cart. They don't take summer vacations, and Sung Yu said in the winter he gets a part-time hospital job.

Like farmers, they are at the mercy of Minnesota's weather. "When it's cold, they [customers] go to the skyway and we are very sad," Sung Yu said.

James Moncur, the director of licensing and consumer services, said the weather and the cost of buying a food cart limit the number of people getting into the field. The city only allows one sidewalk food cart per intersection. People have to apply for a particular location. The license costs $757 a year.

"For the most part, there isn't much competition for the various locations. We haven't had a raffle in several years," said Moncur, noting that once someone has a corner they can renew the license annually, without competition.

"These guys have to make all their money in a short period of time, and it is tough to do that," Moncur said.

In the morning, Yong Yu slices the tomatoes, dices the onions, and preps the peppers and other condiments to get ready for the lunch rush.

They seem proud of their regular customers, who include judges, police officers, firefighters "and all different kinds of people," Sung Yu said.

Just how many dogs do they sling each day? Sung Yu said he couldn't say (in a that's-proprietary-information sort of way.)

For the Yus, the biggest change on the Nicollet Mall in the past 12 years is the growth in sidewalk cafes. It has taken some of their outdoor dining business, Sung Yu said.