Nickel City Gritty: Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs
When you think about a hot dog, you think simple, right? Hot dog, bun, ketchup, mustard…that’s it.
That used to be the standard, until now. Frank and Paul Tripi are two brothers who own Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs. Their business started as a food truck in 2013, and after five years of hustling, they now are the proud owners of their first brick and mortar location on Kenmore Avenue in Buffalo. They have taken the simple idea of a hot dog and flipped it on its head, offering such elevated options as the Frank Mi (pickled veggies, cucumber, jalapeño, sriracha aioli, cilantro), the Impractical Joker (lettuce, cheddar cheese, special sauce, onion, pickle, sesame seeds), and my personal favorite the Violet Beauregarde (blueberry bbq sauce, cheddar cheese, onion crunch).
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Frank and Paul recently in their gorgeous restaurant and loved hearing all about how they started in the restaurant industry. They are so passionate about running their business and are extremely proud of the high-quality product that they serve to their loyal customers. We chatted about their personal style, where they go when they need to unwind, their guilty pleasures, and their eagerness and willingness to help others in need.
As a special treat, I have two playlists for your listening pleasure, one from each of the guys.
This is Nickel City Gritty, and this is Frank and Paul of Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs.
Tell me a little bit about how Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs came to be.
Frank: It was 2013, and I just knew at the time that I always wanted to work for myself, and I was trying to pick businesses that had “monopolies” in Buffalo that I could really do better. I fell into hot dogs, because New York City-there’s a lot of hot dog places around. I would always think, “Why is nobody improving on the concept of the hot dog.” I kept thinking about it and I pulled my brother in. One day we got in the car, drove to New York City, bought a food truck and came back, and it all came together. It was really on the premise of thinking of taking this one item and doing it in a much better and fun point of view.
Paul: We could make it better, make it healthier, and more interesting.
F: It was the time in Buffalo where everyone was kind of doing the same old same old. Like, you can use this product and a hundred restaurants use that one product. Healthy trends were starting to change and people’s interest in food was starting to get real serious, and we thought Buffalo was ready for a fast casual restaurant like us. And it’s definitely been an uphill battle, don’t get me wrong, but it just started from that one idea and just take this one item and do it better in every way. That was really it! It’s kind of crazy to think how fast it came together.
P: Yeah it wasn’t even that, though, we had to learn a whole industry. The food truck industry was probably three years in when we started, and there was no crash course on how to run a food truck. We were the tenth truck in Buffalo so it was really trial and error and just make it work, especially in the first years. Everyone was trying to be different, and we respected that and found that fun.
F: Now there’s probably eighty food trucks and it’s pretty different, but we think we got in at the right time where an idea like ours, even though it took a while, was well received. Ya know, we’re not professionally trained, we didn’t go to a culinary institute, but we’re just two guys that has a menu where the burgers and hot dogs and sandwiches are really great.
P: It’s food that we want to eat. We really take the time and put the passion into figuring out how to do better. If we enjoy it and it’s quality food, we know that our customers will enjoy it too. It’s a simple formula.
Describe your personal style.
P: For me, it’s winter all the time. I don’t wear shorts, I don’t like shorts, so for me it’s definitely jeans and a nice pair of boots, and it kind of depends on the weather for everything else. If I could wear black everyday I would. We don’t really dress up often.
F: But you’ll throw down money on boots that only four people in Buffalo have! Me, I’m jeans and a tee shirt guy.
P: Rugged chic!
F: You’ll see me with a beard, black tee shirt on, and black jeans and that’s it. I’ll throw on a watch now and then, but I’m casual. We’re always in a Frank tee shirt, really. That’s pretty much our uniform. If you see us dressed up in normal clothes it’s rare, because we’re always working. For a business whose colors are primary, we’re always in black or grey. *laughs*
P: It’s definitely changed a bit, though, since we’ve grown and new employees come in. We’ve had some employees who are fashionistas, and now I wear a ripped sweatshirt from high school and they are like, “You are on trend right now!” and I’m like, “I’m ready to throw it out!”
F: They think he bought it for, like, $200!
What is one accomplishment that you are the most proud of?
P: I think it would have to be the business.
F: Yeah, we’ve done a lot of things, Paul went to law school and I went to business school, worked in New York City, worked in the Hamptons, I was in the fitness industry for a while, and we’ve probably done every job, both sexy and not so sexy. But really, just sticking with this business is probably my biggest accomplishment. If we weren’t so stubborn we probably would have closed after year one.
P: For sure.
F: It was that brutal. That’s when trucks used to go out at 4am on Elmwood in the snow and dig a spot and park. We had to push the truck home from Elmwood at four in the morning because it broke down. Everything went wrong. If we didn’t believe in ourselves and the business, we probably would have closed. I think you come to a point where you go, “Do we just say fuck it or do we push through?” We’re the type of people who just push through. If I want to stop, we’re twins, so he’ll just keep me going. That’s nice to have. Going from a beat up used truck to a nice new truck to a restaurant…I think that’s my biggest accomplishment.
P: We’ve done a lot with very little. Prior to opening the restaurant we ran two food trucks and Expo downtown with like seven people. That’s unheard of. Now we have a place of our own, and I think that’s pretty cool!
When people come to you for help, what do they usually want help with?
P: I would say we’ve definitely had inquiries about the food truck business.
F: He’s actually sat down and helped a lot of the food trucks that are operating now get started. We’re an open book, you just gotta ask us.
P: Yeah, we’re very supportive and helpful as much as we can. We’re not gonna tell you how to run your business, but we’ll tell you what not to do to avoid disaster. So things in terms of permits, licensing, registration, stuff like that.
F: Because we run such a tight knit family unit, a lot of it goes over to personal things since we are older than a lot of our employees. I take a lot of pride in the fact that we will go out of our way to help somebody that’s an employee if they need it. We like the fact that if our employees ask us something, we’re always there for them. We would never turn our shoulder on anybody. We have a lot of experience under our belt, and it’s nice that people want your opinion.
What is your most prized possession?
P: We’re not materialistic at all…I can’t even say that there’s one item.
F: I honestly don’t spend money on myself. I spend my money on other people. I get more joy out of doing something nice for someone else. Maybe I should buy myself something! At one time I was a pretty good athlete and I won a ton of awards for that, and when I go back home it’s kind of fun to see all of that, but those aren’t really prized possessions.
P: I guess we don’t have anything! That was a boring answer. There’s just nothing that I’m that attached to.
F: I would rather get a cup of coffee with someone or go to dinner with my brother than actually have a possession. We’re more about moments.
What is your spirit animal?
F: *laughs* Why elephant?! I’ve never heard that before!
P: They’re big, they’re strong, and they’re smart.
F: Oh! That’s actually great.
Why a wolf?
F: I’ve always liked wolves. I’ve actually collected wolf things which is kind of dorky of me. My mom always used to buy me wolf things. I’ve always liked wolves. I’m a one man wolf pack. They’re very aggressive, and I can have my moments, I’m not gonna lie. I feel like wolves kind of mind their own business unless you mess with them. I’ve always felt that way.
P: But in a pack, they’re very loyal, and you’re very loyal.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
P: I would say…nobody owes you anything, and don’t be afraid to work. Another one my father told me is, never talk shit about yourself because they’ll be plenty of people doing that for you. It just comes down to hard work, be confident in yourself, be positive, and try to do the right thing.
F: If you’re negative all the time, only negative shit is going to happen. I had a teacher that I really respected in elementary school, and his advice always stuck with me, and I actually quoted it later to the Buffalo News, was about perseverance. He had a big speech about it in class and it always stuck with me. I’ll always remember that in shitty times, you gotta persevere through it. Also, my mom and dad, through their actions and their work and life, you can see that you have to work hard. It’s non verbal things that successful people do that I pick up on. I see people who are doing things well and I can pick up on certain aspects, whether it’s confidence or whatever.
P: We’ve never really had mentors, we’re just really in the moment when we’re working and we are very good at watching, taking it in, processing, and applying it.
What is your guilty pleasure?
P: Mine is ice cream, for sure. It’s food…definitely food.
F: Not even just ice cream. Like, the premium of all…shipped in from out of state.
P: I think it started because my first job was at Dairy Queen, so when I was 16. I didn’t eat as much ice cream then as I do now. We go to Dee Dee’s every summer and get a monster cone. Ice cream for sure…it keeps me fuckin sane.
F: I think food in general…it’s an Italian thing, it’s always around. Sundays are like our cheat meal day kind of thing, and we go for it. I’m pretty basic…pizza, pile of french fries, big bag of chips. The only dessert I ever really like is New York style cheesecake. I like a good chicken finger sub. Really it’s anything when I don’t actually have to make it, is really exciting.
P: You like chicken wings, too.
F: I do like chicken wings, but not in public, because I don’t like to eat them around people. I think it’s kind of weird. In private I like to crush twenty chicken wings and have blue cheese all over my face, but it’s not something that I’d order out in front of people. Most of the disgusting cheat meals happens in the privacy of our own home!
What is on your playlist? What do you like to listen to?
P: 90’s for me. I’m kind of all over the board. Fitz and the Tantrums I really like right now, but 90’s for sure. I’ll listen to everything. Honestly, I don’t listen to much current stuff. Like, I couldn’t name anybody. I like Chili Peppers, Live, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, stuff like that.
F: I’m not a super music junkie, but I’d say 103.3 would be my station. 107.7 a little bit. I like Metallica, I like Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls, bands like that. I’m more metal-rock and he’s more 90’s pop.
P: I mean, you’ve got a little bit more anger in you!
Where do you go when you need to relax?
F: My couch.
P: This is gonna be a little, well, not too creepy, but I go to Forest Lawn, actually. You can’t find a more peaceful place in Buffalo than a cemetery. If I really need to clear my head on the daily I go take a walk, I go visit some people in there, some family members and stuff and walk around. And it’s beautiful, too, and there’s a lot of history there. I go there probably twice a month. Kind of center myself.
F: Our grandfather is in there, and he had nothing but he just started building houses and he got really good at it. For years he was probably one of the premier house builders in this area, so that’s a spot where you go to where you just sit…
P: Yeah, and be like, “Am I doing okay?” That’s just my way of letting things out and kind of centering myself.
F: If I get off the couch when I need a moment, I like going to Delaware Park and walking around there…
P: *laughs* Be honest!
F: What?! Where do I go?
P: Where do you go. When you need to clear your head.
F: The casino?
P: Yeah! The blackjack table!
F: That comes off wrong!
P: No, you’re not an addict.
F: I do like going to the casino now and then. I like being around all the action. So you can find me at Delaware Park OR the casino.
What are some of your favorite bars and restaurants in Buffalo?
P: New for me this year would be Prescott’s Provisions. It’s in the North Tonawanda area. They opened up this year, really good. Oliver’s is probably my favorite restaurant in Buffalo. Love the bar, love the food. Fuji Grill also for more casual.
F: Yeah, it depends where in the day we are. We don’t really plan ahead where we’re going. I’m at Kostas a lot. We’re always in the proximity of that place. After work I go there because they’re open late. I also love the Wellington Pub. Fuji Grill is big for both of us. Prescott’s Provisions is great for anyone who hasn’t been there yet. The people that run that are super nice. Oliver’s for a fancier meal. Left Bank has been my favorite restaurant forever. I like that the menu has never changed because my favorites are on there. I like the bartenders and I feel comfortable there. I go places where I feel comfortable.
Do you have any hidden talents?
P: We are NOT talented in that way!
You can’t hula hoop?
F: Oh! He’s a very good hula hooper, actually!
P: Yeah! I can hula hoop for an hour.
F: One of the girls here, actually, is like a professional hula hooper. She could like throw it up in the air and catch it on her ankle, and she challenged him one year outside at Food Truck Tuesday and we have it on video, and he smoked her in hula hooping, and she was like ruined for the whole shift. He’s solid.
P: We suck at bowling and stuff like that.
F: Yeah, we’re horrible at bowling.
And the last question that I always ask is, what do you want to be when you grow up?
F: I think I’m doing exactly what I want to do. When I was in elementary school, there’s this piece of paper that said that I want to be a police officer or whatever, but through high school and college I’ve always felt entrepreneurial. I was always working for other people, and I think this is how you know that you want to work for yourself, is whether I was waiting tables or working retail in the mall, all these jobs that I had, I always wanted to be the person in charge, ya know? So then I went to college for finance and business administration, and I was sitting there and thought I could be learning or building something. I’ve always wanted to build my own business and have all the risk on my shoulders. I find that exciting. It’s cool to have a 9-5 and that paycheck you know you’re gonna get each week and all that, but I’ve always been a little bit of a risk taker. My family has always had their own businesses, so even though I went to school to be a banker, I’ve always wanted to do my own thing, whether it was own a restaurant or not. This just so happens to be what I fell into and I love it. I love working for myself. And because, this is why, we’ve always said this jokingly. Nobody can ask me to get them a cup of coffee. That always resonated with me.
P: I think I said that.
F: Oh, well, I stole that. Paul said that. Nobody can ask us to get them a cup of coffee. I think that’s what I like. We set our own rules.
P: I think maybe down the road, I’ve kind of always wanted to have my own ice cream thing. Only because it was the only job that I’ve ever had where it’s like, you couldn’t really mess up someone’s day.
F: Well you loved working at Dairy Queen.
P: LOVED it. Best job ever. I mean this is great, but…free ice cream all day. And even before I got involved with this I started working on a plan. So maybe down the road, something like that. It just brings you back to your childhood. Something I enjoyed. It’s parallel to this, it’s just a different product. There might be sometime where I start my own adventure, but not right now, we’ve got too much to do. That’s aways been in the back of my mind. I’d like to bring back my crew from when I was sixteen, I’m still friends with a lot of them. So I don’t know, maybe something like that.
F: I’ve still got him locked in for a few more years before he spreads his wings!
Thank you so much Frank and Paul for sitting down with me and answering my crazy questions. You can visit their restaurant at 707 Kenmore Avenue in Buffalo and once the warm weather hits, keep an eye out for their food truck cruising around town!