Williston may be the big-box-store capital of Vermont, but that hasn't stopped small enterprises from sprouting there. One of the newest is T.J.'s Dawg House, a seasonal hot dog and sausage stand located at Maple Tree Place near Best Buy.
How did Thomas J. "T.J." Chelak Jr., a dude with a degree in electrical engineering, come to be a hot-dog hustler? He was laid off by IBM, after 14 years on the job.
"I panicked for, like, three days, took a deep breath, and I was all good," he explains. For three years, he worked as a snowboard instructor at Smugglers' Notch. "When the kids finally got it, they looked at me like I was the best person in the whole world. From that day forth, I wanted to see that look on every face."
He got his wish, in a new job selling hot dogs outside Home Depot in Williston. After all, what makes people happier than a hunk of meat wrapped in bread?
His job went swimmingly until misfortune struck. The Ferrisburgh Roadhouse, owned by his hot-dog-cart employers, burned to the ground. In the wake of the conflagration, they reassessed their business strategy and laid Chelak off. "I was the only non-family employee, so they had to let me go," he explains.
Instead of "going back to corporate America," Chelak opted to start his own biz. Right across the street, Maple Tree Place beckoned, and he figured he'd find a market for hot dogs on both sides of 2A. Knowing he'd have competition, Chelak sought out the finest frank. He zeroed in on a Gourmet magazine article naming Chicago's Vienna Beef dogs "the country's best hot dog." "I'm the only person in Vermont that has 'em," he boasts.
How would Chelak describe his extra-special sausage? "There's a little bit of garlic in there, and paprika, which gives it a reddish color . . . it's smoked, so you've got a little bit of a smoky flavor . . . it really tastes like a gourmet hot dog." But his attention to detail, developed over years in the microprocessor industry, comes into play, too. Chelak brags, "Of course, I'm one of the best cooks in the world, so it's still got all the juices in it."
What else is cooking in W-ton? Last month, a fresh bagel place called Bagels Plus opened where Koval's Coffee used to be. A new health foods store, Natural Provisions, is planned this fall in the old Boise Cascade building near Bed Bath & Beyond.
And, of course, there's the newly minted Williston Farmers' Market - Chittenden County's sole source of Vermustard, a new food product made by the Adams family of Richmond.
According to young entrepreneur Michael Adams, 19, his family has been making mustard "in-house" for three years using a kicked-up version of a friend's recipe. But when they saw there was no mustard for sale at the Farmers' Market, the gears started turning.
"We gave it a whirl and did nine jars . . . And we sold out of those nine jars in an hour and a half," Adams boasts. They increased production to 24 jars, and have sold out every week since.
The mustard wasn't the Adamses' first foray into food production. Michael has been working with his parents to produce and sell Eddie's Energy Bars, named after his father, since he was in high school. He explains, "My dad has diabetes . . . they're his recipes." When he's not fully immersed in his job as a senior materials engineer at IBM, Eddie Adams, PhD, acts as "the head of energy-bar research and development." The son's role: "marketing and the creative aspects." Mom Jeanne pitches in, too. She delivers the bars to retailers and "keeps the family in line."
Unlike the mustard, the bars are available in stores, such as Sweet Clover Market in Essex and UVM's new Davis Center. And Adams recently added his first out-of-state venue, The Boro Bean in New Jersey. In cyberspace, they're located at http://www.eddiesenergy.com.