Like many kids his age, 13-year-old Jaequan Faulkner wanted to have his own money to spend. He could have asked for a weekly allowance. He could have saved up his birthday money. But Jaequan wanted to earn that money — and he had an idea. The entrepreneurial young man set up a hot dog stand in front of his house.
Most neighbours encouraged the boy. They commended him on his work ethic. They bought his hot dogs and wished him success. Even the local police, out on the streets of Jaequan’s neighborhood in Minneapolis, stopped by for hot dogs.
After talking to the young teen, they learned that his efforts were not just to make some pocket change. He also insisted that he wanted to learn what it takes to operate a small business. The officers were impressed and shared Jaequan’s story on social media, encouraging others to support the boy.
That’s when ‘Mr. Faulkner’s Old Fashion Hot Dogs’ became the talk of the town. The little hot dog stand suddenly got very busy. “I didn’t think it would go this far,” admits his uncle, “but I saw that he was very serious about getting started.”
But Not Everyone Wanted Him to Succeed
But as quickly as customers poured in to support the young entrepreneur, calls were made to the city to denounce young Jaequan as operating against the law. After all, Jaequan didn’t have a permit.
To every adult that once put up a lemonade stand in their childhood, that complaint might seem silly. But city officials had to take it seriously. Any food stand has to have a permit. Permits regulate where such food trucks, carts and stands can be located. They also help control for sanitary conditions and safe food handling.
Still, the Minneapolis Environmental Health Director, Dan Huff, did not want to shut down Jaequan’s hot dog stand — and the boy’s dream. Instead, Huff saw it as a learning opportunity. “Let’s turn this situation around and help him become a legitimate business owner,” Huff said.
The Little Hot Dog Stand That Could
That’s when Jaequan’s dream really did come true.
Huff helped the boy learn what it really takes to run a business. The director and his team pooled their own money to purchase a 10-day permit for Jaequan’s hot dog stand. They helped the boy set up a tent over his table to protect himself and his customers from the elements. They provided the boy with meat thermometers and showed him how to ensure that the hot dogs he was selling were safe for human consumption. Finally, they set Jaequan up with a hand-washing station and explained the guidelines for safe food handling.
Now, the young owner-operator of ‘Mr. Faulkner’s Old Fashion Hot Dogs’ was running a real business. The phone calls to denounce Jaequan’s small business suddenly stopped coming in. Instead, other community organizations took notice and stepped in to make sure Jaequan’s hot dog stand, like many small businesses, didn’t fizzle out in its first year.
The Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON), a nonprofit organization, offered coaching to the boy on all aspects of operating a business, from setting prices to attracting new customers to growing the business. Now, Jaequan has a proper food cart, signage and even a uniform.
Hot Dogs and Happiness
While the business seems to be taking off and the money continues to roll in, Jaequan remains humble and customer-focused. “When I see someone passing by with a frown, and I can turn that into a smile just by selling them a hot dog, that’s my reward.”
The support from the community has given Jaequan’s fledgling business new wings. The young teen is more determined than ever to make his business succeed, now that he knows his community is behind him. “Can’t nobody stop you but you!” He exclaims with a big smile.
When his hot dog stand was denounced to city officials, they had a choice to make. They could abide by the strict letter of the law and shut it down, or they could help the boy bring it to code. They could squash his dream or they could support it.
The permit was just the beginning. It will expire, but when it does, Jaequan already has his calendar filled with new locations that have offered to host him, from the local police station to a church. Jaequan’s community wants to see its newest entrepreneur succeed.
“You come out here, he’s got a smile on his face every day,” says a local police officer who works with Bike Cops for Kids. “We love this kid.”
Indeed, it seems that everyone does.
More from Goalcast: