ST. MARYS — Compared to the hustle and bustle of New York City life, Paul Akat said life in Pennsylvania is more tranquil and much easier. He likes his job here more, too.
For 20 years, Akat worked at New York’s main jail, Riker’s Island, as a corrections officer. But for the past few, he’s been putting hot dogs in the hands of hungry customers at his street side business.
“When you work for 20 years in a place like that...you want to get away from that environment,” he said.
Akat traded the concrete jungle for the Keystone countryside after he retired from law enforcement, already familiar with the region from visiting family. He didn’t plan on working again, he said, and he had no interest in the food business.
His mind changed when he learned that the owner of a hot dog cart outside of the Clearfield County Courthouse was looking to sell his business. Akat would soon buy Dog Gone Crazy, taking over as owner and operator and re-imagining its menu.
In the Big Apple, hot dogs are serious business; the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimated that New Yorkers spent more than $100 million on them in 2016, more than anyone in any other market. Akat decided to start selling a product more like the one that he said was common in the city: all beef franks.
“I wanted to continue that tradition,” he said.
Akat sells hot dogs for $2.50 apiece, and specialty hot dogs for $2.75. The most popular sellers, he said, are the New York dog, which is served with a special sauce sourced from the city of the same name, and the chili cheese dog. He also serves sausage for $4.50.
Akat continued to sell hot dogs in front of the courthouse for three years, in which time he said court employees became some of his regular customers. As much as he liked the area, though, he decided to strike out for St. Marys, where he sensed opportunity.
So far, it seems like St. Marys has been good to him. He said his location near city hall is “excellent,” and he’s even been able to expand his business.
About a month ago, Akat ditched the cart for a small trailer he purchased from a food vendor in Harrisburg. He said it should shield him from the elements and allow him to keep his business running in the winter months.
He attributes his new digs to the customers who he said asked him to open year-round. Getting to chat with them, he said, is what he likes best about the business.
He thanked the city of St. Marys and its residents for their support and for “wrapping their arms around” his business. Looking forward, Akat hopes to grow it even more.
That growth could take the form of a food truck or a permanent location, he said, and could even involve opening multiple locations.
“The sky is the limit,” he said.