Kent’s Hot Dog Man Serves Ketchup, Mustard And Good Cheer
By CB Wismar
Chris Dalla Riva was all of 12 when his father set him up with a hot dog cart in the town of Kent, Conn. Four decades later, he’s still there.
“He wanted my brother and me to learn business,” says Chris, as he deftly extracts a pair of Sabrett skinless hot dogs from the steaming water tank, places them on two fresh buns, applies the requested ketchup, mustard and relish and offers them up — without missing a beat. “The first thing we had to do was learn how to make change. Once we got that down, then serving our customers was easy.”
Dalla Riva is still at his post, the silver wagon with the yellow and blue Sabrett umbrella positioned just south of the Kent War Memorial at the intersection of Routes 7 and 241. Judging from the steady flow of customers who form an informal parking configuration near his cart and three picnic tables, the appetite for great “street dogs” hasn’t diminished in 41 years. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on any given sunny day from late April to late October, the cart is a welcome destination for those desiring a quick lunch — no frills, just “dogs and chips and drinks.”
The menu is clearly posted on paper plates clipped to a wire frame. “By far, the most popular item is the skinless hot dog,” says Dalla Riva, “but we’ve got several other suggestions. It’s interesting how tastes have developed over the years.”
The expanded menu offers a range of bun-based sausages — from hot-link kielbasa and Johnsonville Andouille sausage or smoked bratwurst to an intriguing Amylu mango and jalapeno chicken sausage.
“I started offering chicken sausages several years ago when customers asked for them,” Dalla Riva says. “Sometimes the selection varies, but I generally have a caramelized onion and white cheddar cheese chicken sausage and a Cajun chicken sausage.”
Dalla Riva’s early partner was his younger brother, Craig, who went into broadcasting. The legacy of the “Kent Hot Dog Man” has continued unabated for Dalla Riva, who has become deeply involved in the community as his cart has become a local fixture. Directions, local insight, music trivia, community events, the local art scene — those are all topics for which Chris is a trusted expert.
“I meet a lot of people every day,” he says with an easy smile. “I love talking to them and they seem to enjoy the food. What more could you ask?”
Twin coolers are part of the pop-up restaurant, each filled with a wide selection of beverages. Next to the menu, fluttering in the breeze, are several rows of chips. The toppings offered for the customer’s sausage of choice are the welcome additions of chili, cheddar cheese and onion sauce, along with a wide variety of mustards, hot sauce, ketchup and relish. “I have potato knishes most days. There are some folks who stop in who just want something different.”
Those who stop in are a veritable cross section of the general public. At one table, gentlemen in suits and ties sit across from ladies in smart dresses and high heels. Behind them, a work crew from a local tree service takes a lunch break. They may be joined by someone motoring a sports car up toward Lime Rock Park or, on weekends, a parade of leisure motorcyclists out to enjoy a ride in the country.
“Everything I serve is fully cooked, which is a health department requirement,” comments Dalla Riva. “I shop and replenish several times a week, so everything is really fresh.”
Alas, hot dog carting, even one catering to a faithful and growing clientele, is not enough to carry one through the long winter months. From November to April, Dalla Riva can be found plying his other skill — being an electrician in the local community
And the future? “I’m only 53,” he says, with the customary twinkle in his eye. “I’ll keep going as long as I can.”
Then, in the same breath, as a local saunters up to the cart, he says “Hey, good afternoon. What can I get you?”
Support Rural Intelligence
We have always kept Rural Intelligence free for all our readers but the reality is that we do need the support of readers like you. Did you like what you just read? Do you value the unique content Rural Intelligence provides? Please consider making a donation to support us. Even a small donation helps secure our future!Support Now