If you thought famous restaurants like Ted’s and Chef’s launching food trucks meant controversy over Buffalo’s trucks was history, you haven’t heard about “Wienergate.”
One weekday lunch hour last month, Buffalo developer and restaurant owner Rocco Termini crossed Oak Street carrying a loaded tray of hot dogs.
He was headed for the line at the Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs truck parked at Catholic Health headquarters, 144 Genesee St.
The truck, which specializes in nitrate-free upscale dogs with toppings like guacamole and blueberry sauce, was there at the invitation of the nonprofit health care firm. It was parked between hungry Catholic Health employees and Termini’s hot dog restaurant, Dog e Style, at 128 Genesee St.
“I don’t think it’s fair for this truck to be competing against us,” Termini told people in the Frank’s line, by his account. “So I’m giving everybody a free hot dog.” He gave out about 50, he said.
After completing his mission, Termini returned to his restaurant. About an hour later he was visited by officers of the Buffalo Police Department, who were looking into a trespassing complaint, Termini said.
“I put my hands out and asked if they were going to cuff me for giving out hot dogs,” Termini said. “That’s when I started calling it Doggy-Gate.”
Termini said his hot dog giveaway was a protest of the hot dog truck’s invited lunch spot. “I just think it’s inappropriate for a food truck to be invited to a building, when right across the street, a brick-and-mortar establishment is selling the same thing,” he said. “We pay real estate taxes.” The same could not be said of Catholic Health’s headquarters, Termini said.
After an article about the conflict appeared on buffalonews.com, local blogger Alan Bedenko tweeted “So, millionaire Rocco termini @dogestylebuf was upset that @findfranknow had been invited to sell hot dogs on private property.” Responding to that tweet, the Frank Twitter account published a photo that appears to show Termini standing beside a tray of hot dogs and tweeted in response to Bedenko: “pretty much. he could have at least brought napkins with him ... and maybe a health permit.”
The Buffalo food truck law bars food trucks from operating while parked on city thoroughfares within 100 feet of an open restaurant. That does not apply to invitations to park on private property, such as the Catholic Health lot.
Catholic Health spokesman Chuck Hayes said the Frank truck was invited to Catholic Health after employees asked if food trucks could visit to diversify lunch possibilities.
That particular truck was invited in an effort to offer employees relatively healthy food options, in an environmentally responsible manner, Hayes said. “No fried foods, no soda,” he said. The new Catholic Health headquarters is designed to encourage its 600 occupants to fan out into downtown Buffalo, but the company also needs options for employees who don’t have much time for lunch, Hayes said.
“If it’s going to be here, it’s got to be healthier food done in an environmentally sensitive way,” he said.
The Frank truck does sell a bacon-topped hot dog with bacon mayonnaise, and house-cut french fries. In a nod to healthy eating guidelines, however, the only fries Frank is allowed to sell at Catholic Health are its sweet potato fries, which are more nutritious. They are also not allowed to sell pop, Hayes said.
Hayes declined to address Termini’s specific comments, or say if a Catholic Health official called the police. The truck’s appearance is a pilot program that called for it to appear for two hours every two weeks, Hayes noted. “That’s four hours a month.”