- Mark Quinlan (right) grabbing a hot dog at the original Kendyl's Buns on the Run trailer
To get to the hottest hot dog stand in the Northeast Kingdom this winter, you'll need a snowmobile — and plenty of snow dances to ensure good conditions.
Kendyl's Buns on the Run, a seasonal business in Norton, is not accessible by car, which makes it completely weather dependent. But it's an essential stop on a popular snowmobiling loop from Island Pond to Canaan (see "In the Loop," page 36), whether for a quick snack or a chat with proprietor Kendyl Bell.
"She's right on the trail but in the middle of nowhere," said Mark Quinlan of South Burlington, who started snowmobiling six years ago when he borrowed a sled from Pat McCaffrey, also of South Burlington.
"It's tucked right in the pines," McCaffrey said. "You'd fly past it if you went too fast."
The friends often stop at Kendyl's while snowmobiling around the NEK during the roughly 10-week period when there's enough snow to ride. Quinlan's name is even written in "The Wiener's Circle," where Bell has regulars sign the side of the stand.
The idea for Kendyl's Buns on the Run came from a garage party, as many ideas do during NEK winters. Bell, 30, had moved in December 2020 from San Francisco, where she was a fashion stylist, to Norton. Though her parents owned land there, she didn't know many people and figured a hot dog stand was as good a way to make friends as any.
Opening the stand on the snowmobile trail on her parents' property became Bell's 2021 New Year's resolution. By January 3, she and her mom had painted an old trailer — previously used as a hunting blind and a "she shed" — and dragged it into a freshly cleared spot in the woods. Bell got a local trail groomer to hang her hand-painted signs with arrows and opened for business.
A few seasons later, her business — which she now operates out of a minibus — is a regular weekend stop for snowmobilers in the know. Trails around Vermont are officially open from December 15 through April 15, depending on snowfall. Typically, Kendyl's gets up and running in January.
"I tell people to get lost in the woods, go the long route and you'll find me," Bell said with a laugh.
- Kendyl Bell
Once you're in the general area, though, she's easy to spot. Bell drives an old Jeep lifted on track wheels, which she parks near the stand. She decks herself out in pink, from her hot-pink metallic snow pants to her sweater to the napkins she hands out.
The stand is an oasis for snowmobilers looking for warm food, a drink of water, a conversation break or a Porta-Potty. On a good snow day, it's hosted more than 100 sleds at a time, Bell said. This winter, she will add a full-size bus that doubles as a warming hut and seating area.
"People are happy I'm out there, because I'm far from the restaurants and gas stations," Bell said. "When they're driving by and they forgot to pack a snack, it's like, Bam. There's this blond girl in a school bus handing out food."
Bell's menu features hot dogs, bratwurst, pulled pork and chili made with meat from her parents' cows and pigs, chips, popcorn, granola bars, hot chocolate, coffee, water, and soda. Everything is available by donation.
"It's just hot, good-quality, simple food," she said. "Nobody wants to sit down and have a five-course meal. People want something quick that will warm them up until they get to whatever their next restaurant is."
Bell views the stand's honor-system, donation-based model as keeping things accessible to everyone. She reinvests some of the proceeds into the business and donates the rest to local snowmobile clubs and causes such as the American Cancer Society.
Bell also hosts special events for the community; in 2022, she organized a benefit for a local woman battling breast cancer, which drew a crowd of pink-bedecked sleds. She plans to host another breast cancer ride-in this year, and she's once again participating in the Northeast Kingdom Snow Blasters' Stake Out Cancer trailside fundraiser, offering $10 stake sponsorships.
Bell herself is still new to snowmobiling, and her personal motto is "go slow and be cautious." She gets lots of advice from the strong community of riders who stop by, ranging from locals to Floridians and from young kids to a Canadian gentleman in his nineties.
"What I love about snowmobiling is, regardless of your age, your gender, how you identify, you can be out there having a great time," Bell said. "Everybody's happy when they're on a sled."
When they catch a glimpse of Bell's bus ahead on the trail, they're even happier.
In the Loop
- File: Don Whipple
- Menu items from April's Maple
Plenty of restaurants are accessible from Vermont Association of Snow Travelers trails — weather permitting. In heavy snow years, Mark Quinlan has started 100-mile snowmobile treks from the parking lot of the Dutch Mill Diner on Route 7 in Shelburne. VAST trails around the Champlain Valley take riders through farm fields across Spear Street and Dorset Street, down to Shelburne Pond and up Mount Philo. Quinlan has followed them all the way to Rosie's Restaurant in Middlebury.
But in restaurant-rich Chittenden County, "the conditions are usually pretty sketchy," he said. "It's not like up in the Northeast Kingdom."
More popular with riders is Island Pond, which Pat McCaffrey, who has been snowmobiling since 1989, called "the snowmobile capital of Vermont. You see traffic coming in from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Connecticut — all coming in to park for the weekend and get at it, riding all through the trails up there."
Hungry riders can find trail-accessible restaurants on the VAST website, which hosts a color-coded map showing conditions on the 5,000-plus miles of trails the nonprofit organization maintains around the state.
- File: Don Whipple
- Snowmobilers outside April's Maple
To ride on VAST trails, snowmobilers must insure and register their sleds; join a county and local club, choosing from the group's 127 clubs statewide; purchase a trail pass; and take a snowmobile safety course if they were born after July 1, 1983, according to the VAST website. Passes are currently available at vtvast.org for $155 for an annual in-state registration through December 15.
For riders who are drawn to the "snowmobile capital" for its ample parking and trail access, Kendyl Bell suggested a dining itinerary. From Island Pond, they can stop at her Kendyl's Buns on the Run in Norton before hitting April's Maple in Canaan for lunch.
April Lemay's multifaceted maple biz (6507 Route 114, Canaan, 266-9624, aprilsmaple.com) has been a destination for snow travelers since its launch in 2013. Even before it had a year-round on-site café, snowmobilers found their way to the sugarhouse to eat hot dogs and warm up by the boiling sap.
A decade later, April's Maple is an official stop on the VAST system. Inside the shop, metal racks labeled "Snowmobile Gear Here" will be loaded with diners' helmets once the snow piles up.
From fluffy pancakes to maple dogs with maple mustard, the maple-packed menu is perfect fuel for a winter adventure. But the pièce de résistance is the maple creemee, made with a 10 percent butterfat base and April's Maple syrup and served in a cone coated with maple cream and rolled in maple crunch.
"It's decadent beyond decadence," Lemay told Seven Days last spring. Even on a cold, snowy day, that's worth hitting the trail for.
- File: Don Whipple
- April's Maple creemee
From the sugarhouse, Bell suggested looping back to Island Pond for dinner at the Essex House & Tavern (138 Cross St., Island Pond, 723-9888, essexhouseandtavern.com), where she happens to work. The recently renovated circa-1866 hotel may be in the village of Island Pond, but it sits directly on the VAST trails — and across the street from the town's eponymous lake.
At the Essex House & Tavern, helmets and snowsuits pile up "all over the tables in the restaurant dining room" during snowmobile season, Quinlan said. "That place is super hopping."
The first-floor tavern's lunch and dinner menu ranges from poutine to burgers to broiled maple-bourbon scallops; there's regular live music and other entertainment, too. Upstairs lodging makes an easy home base for snowmobilers from out of town.
Working dinner at the Essex House can be "crazy busy," Bell said. But she loves seeing the same people she saw in the woods earlier in the day.
"They're supporting our small towns, eating everywhere and drinking everywhere," she said.