CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For entrepreneurs outside the Democratic National Convention, the easy part may be the hours of smoking meat, screen-printing T-shirts or pumping out pedicab rides.
Those small-business owners have needed a balance of patience and scrappiness to negotiate a series of physical and bureaucratic barriers for a share of the $200 million that visitors were expected to spend this week in Charlotte. But the hustle pays off when they’re able to make a big score, such as selling $10,000 in barbecue sandwiches in one day.
I never did as good as we did Monday. Everything came together just right, said Dan Huntley, who sold barbecue out of his Dan the Pig Man food truck.
Working the convention was a calculated risk for Huntley, who went full time into the catering and food truck business in 2009, when he was laid off from his job of 27 years as a reporter for the Charlotte Observer.
He spent about $20,000 this year on upgrades to his truck, in no small part to prepare for the convention. It rained on the street party Charlotte threw to welcome the convention late in the afternoon Monday, just as Huntley sold his last sandwich.
It’s a crap shoot in the food business. I could have easily lost everything if it had rained in the morning, said Huntley, who prepared another batch of barbecue overnight and sold sandwiches the rest of the week from a special lot set aside by convention organizers near Time Warner Cable Arena.
Huntley’s truck was hard for passersby to miss, with its painting of the barbecue regions of the Carolinas (Charlotte is in the tomato sauce zone, vinegar is to the east and mustard to the south) and a caricature of him holding cleavers in both hands.
It was the truck and the name that stopped Rob Ryland, chairman of the Democratic Party in Bastrop County, Texas. The lines inside the arena that was hosting convention events were too long, and he was looking for some local flavor.
The $12 sandwich with Huntley’s Carolina Pig Pucker sauce hit the spot.
I saw that truck and I figured, you can’t go wrong with a guy with a name like Dan the Pig Man, Ryland said.
Huntley, like all the other vendors allowed inside the convention zone, had to go through a long and involved selection process with convention organizers.
He estimates it took 75 emails, phone calls and meetings to earn a spot.
But that decision to become a vendor could also benefit him in the future. The convention published a list of all the businesses that passed its screening process, and that list will remain available for events big and small. It is not just sorted by service, but also by location and whether the business is minority-owned, Charlotte Chamber of Commerce spokesman Natalie Dick said.