After months of unemployment, 57-year-old Steve Pruner decided to create his own job selling hot dogs in downtown Durham. Problem is, state laws and regulations called â€œonerousâ€ by a Durham County health official have sidelined Prunerâ€™s hot dog cart.
Pruner, a former executive recruiter for a company conducting clinical research trials, had to find another line of work when the economy went bad. Self-employed, with a mentally handicapped 26-year-old daughter and a 48-year-old brother on kidney dialysis depending on him for support, running a hot dog cart seemed to be the ticket. It wouldnâ€™t require much capital, he could be his own boss, and he could even build a cart himself, he thought.
But Pruner never anticipated how much red tape would stand between him and the â€œAmerican dream.â€
Unable to build a box-on-wheels that satisfied city planners, Pruner ended up purchasing a â€œprofessionalâ€ pushcart for $2,500. Next, he set out to get a vending permit from the city, but found out he also would need to get a health permit from the county. Total cost: $150.
Before he could get a health permit, however, heâ€™d need an inspection. To get an inspection, he would have to enter into a â€œcommissary agreement,â€ requiring him to prepare his food, wash his cart, and store his supplies in a permitted restaurant or commissary.
Pruner claims itâ€™s nearly impossible to convince a restaurant owner to enter into such an agreement, unless you are a friend or family member. Those who do make the agreements hardly ever honor them, he said.
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