FRONT ROYAL – The bright red and yellow stand nailed together from bits and pieces of scrap wood parked in downtown Front Royal has deep, hot roots thousands of miles and many dreams away.
Hot dogs weren’t any kind of motivating factor for Steve Young to get into the hot dog stand business. The eccentric man in love with gags, walks and Phnom Penh, Cambodia, got his start in the food business because he wanted to sell his photographs of volcanoes on Kona island.
“This was all about selling volcano pictures,” Young said.
Red Dog Betty’s is the second iteration of Young’s first stand “This Is It,” a little, literal hole in the wall he set up downstairs from a bar. Business was so slow sometimes, he said, that he would set out a sign telling hungry customers they could find him upstairs.
Because he didn’t get into the business with hot dogs at the heart, Young’s stand — which he’ll tell you he doesn’t own, he just runs — is full of character and life that extends well past the steamed franks slathered in chili.
“I’m just doing it for the giggles,” Young said. “And it gets me out of the house.”
On a hot day, Young sets out a fan and mister to keep customers cool. He jovially calls it a “water park” and boasts his is the only hot dog stand and water park in Front Royal.
Sprawling out from the front counter, Young set up a miniature Eiffel Tower, a hot attraction to go along with his water park.
In the last couple of weeks, Young said he added his very own Hollywood sign, this one sits near the base of the Eiffel Tower rather than looming over the streets of LA.
Hot dogs and hot dog stands are supposed to be fun, Young said. Fun and cheap. Pointing down Main Street and bringing up some other businesses, Young said there were too many restrictions on businesses and no place to get a cheap meal.
Red Dog Betty’s offers a poke in the eye to restrictions with its bold red and yellow paint splashed on broken up pallets, and a respite for the hungry but cash-poor traveler.
“There’s really not a lot of cheap eating places in town,” Young said. “You don’t see this stuff anymore.”
The most expensive item on the menu at Red Dog Betty’s is $7.50 for a dog loaded with everything up to and including the kitchen sink — sauerkraut, coleslaw, bacon, chili to name a few toppings.
Restrictions on Main Street businesses are keeping Front Royal back, Young said. A native of Chicago, Young joked that if Chicago put the same restrictions on businesses Front Royal did, it wouldn’t be the destination it is — it would be another Front Royal.
“In my book, Main Street in America means making money,” Young said, “and the imagination of Americans making their business work.”
Young’s business isn’t cash centered — though he is trying to build his slush fund for his trip to Phnom Penh where he plans to spend the winter, open up another Red Dog Betty’s there and sell more of his pictures. The goal, as always with Young, is to have fun and not to kill anyone in the process.
“The whole thing was just a big goof when I was in Hawaii,” Young said. “I wanted to sell a few pictures; hot dogs were easy. It was a good restaurant food because it’s hard to kill somebody with a hot dog.”