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Sweltering profits

It’s summertime, but the living isn’t easy for food vendors who hawk their wares at street fairs, the fairgrounds, and on street corners in western Nevada County.

The vendors will work long hours between now and October – their make-or-break time of the year – filling the need for hot dogs, ice cream and snow cones.

Bob and Debbie Peterson start work at 4:30 a.m. weekdays to make the 640 ice cream bars in 24 flavors they sell seven days a week from their popular Lazy Dog ice cream cart.



Their pink-and-white 1956 Chevy ice cream truck can be found at just about any weekend event in western Nevada County, from April to October. After 12 years of working weekends, they decided last winter to set up their cart on weekdays in the parking lot of Inter-County Title Co. in Grass Valley.

Still, Debbie Peterson said last week, this is better than when they worked 16 hour days, seven days a week at Confectionately Yours in Nevada City. “We sold the business because we wanted to get a life,” she said.




The Petersons sell 3,000 ice cream bars on a good weekend. Much of their business comes from a loyal clientele that buys in bulk, like the Lake Wildwood couple that purchases two dozen bars every two weeks.

Debbie Peterson may be as big an attraction as the ice cream – she is always laughing and never seems to slow down. Some people have suggested that she eats too much of her own product; she admits to eating as many as six bars before lunch time.

“Like my father said, ‘If it ain’t fun, don’t do it,'” she said. “Besides, you don’t meet grumpy people at an ice cream cart.”

Lazy Dog ice cream apparently has fans within the management of the Sacramento Kings, who Peterson said has asked them about taking over the ice cream concession at Arco Arena.

“But that would mean hiring a lot of people, and a lot more hassle,” she said. “We want a stress-free life. The less stress, the better.”

Jeff Tremayne, who with his wife, Janet, owns the Hawaiian shaved ice stand at Ridge Road and Alta Street, believes selling snow cones to the thirsty masses is an “excellent way to make a living.”

“It’s security to me,” Tremayne said last week. “I don’t have to rely on anybody else to write a check. As long as you do everything right, it’s security.”

Of course, security is a relative concept. Tremayne spent 12 years as a touring musician until he met his wife 12 years ago and changed careers.

Now they follow the street fair and concert circuit in the greater Sacramento area five to six months a year when they aren’t selling their 24 flavors of snow cones at the Ridge Road stand from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Tremayne said he probably won’t get a day off until September but that the lifestyle suits him. “I’m a terrible employee,” he said. “That’s a common thread among vendors.”

Over the years, the Ridge Road site had become a dumping ground for abandoned cars. Tremayne sold the idea of a snow cone stand to property owner Sierra Energy last winter, and he said “business has been fabulous” since opening in April.

Dayna Ensign-Rooke of Nevada City was ready to make a major change in her life, and an ad in The Union gave her inspiration. “I saw this ad for two hot dog carts,” she said last week. “It just jumped out at me, and I said I just have to do this.”

She started selling her Top Dog hot dogs at the 10-Minute Oil Change on South Auburn Street, then at the New York Hotel in Nevada City. She currently parks her cart at 84 Lumber in Auburn from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and works weekend events in Nevada County.

Before she remarried two months ago, it was a seven-days-a-week job, rain or shine. “I was a single mom with two kids for two years,” she said. “Rain, snow, it didn’t matter. I figured if I sold one hot dog, that was better than staying home.”

A good day for Top Dog is “500 plus,” she said, and the Casper old-fashioned hot dog (“It snaps when you bite it. It’s very popular in San Francisco.”) and quarter-pound Polish are her most popular offerings. She also sells a quarter-pound Cajun.

Ensign-Rooke also does catering for private affairs, but she doesn’t see herself giving up the hot dog business any time soon.

“I love my business,” she said. “You meet some great people, from bikers to bums to sheriffs.”


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