Way before Netflix was a thing, Eric Wilson and his father were watching PBS when a program came on that showcased famous hot dog joints across the United States.

The show featured a man with a hot dog cart in Alaska who made $200,000 in just a few months selling caribou dogs at the dog-sled races. Intrigued, Wilson did a little research on hot dog sales and learned about a group of exotic dancers in Florida who wore thongs while selling hot dogs during lunch. They caused a few traffic accidents but made a small mint.

The younger Wilson turned to his dad and said, “I can do that.”

For the past 20 years, Wilson has been doing just that without harming the reindeer population or the undergarment industry. Wilson’s Weenie Wagon has become a Statesville institution.

He ordered a VHS tape of “The Hot Dog Program” – and watched it several times — and soon had a cart and a prime location across from Signal Hill Mall in Statesville.

After a couple years, he sold the cart and opened a small restaurant in the mall. In 2010, he closed Wilson’s Pork ‘n’ Brats and bought back his original hot dog cart.

These days he parks his converted livestock trailer – which houses his original cart — for about four hours a day off Wilkesboro Highway on the west side of town.

Wilson sells about 450 hot dogs a week and a fair amount of chips and drinks. He has a loyal following, including more than a dozen customers who swing by every week. During the warm weather months, he sets up at the Piedmont HealthCare Friday After Five Concerts in the downtown district and takes the Weenie Wagon on the road to festivals throughout the region.

The secret to his success is simple: Offer high-quality hot dogs and don’t gouge your customers. He charges $3 for the regular dog and $5 for the big dog. And, believe it or not, chips and a drink are only a buck each. (His prices are a little higher at concerts and special events.)

Wilson is a bit of a celebrity around town. His regular customers frequently recognize him when they see him out and about in Statesville. “I’m the ‘Hot Dog Man.’ I’m the ‘Weenie Man,’ ” Wilson said. “That’s what everybody calls me.”

He doesn’t have expensive billboards on the interstate, and he doesn’t know exactly how many dogs he’s sold over the past two decades, but Wilson has done okay for himself. He has a nice truck and a limited-edition Harley that he enjoys riding when he’s not working.


Wilson’s dogs are the real deal – especially the Carolina Dog, which is topped with mustard, chili, onions and slaw. He starts with all-beef angus hot dogs, which he buys from a local food service company.

“It’s a tube steak,” he said with a hearty laugh, “an American taco.”

Wilson grills the dogs to order on his gas grill to ensure they are cooked to perfection.

“You know what you’re getting,” he said. “It’s not sitting under a heat lamp all day.

As any connoisseur knows, the secret to a great dog is the toppings. Wilson only offers eight toppings: fresh red onions, spicy relish, sauerkraut, mustard, mayo, chili (which he doctors up) and ketchup. For the record, Wilson is a little judgmental of any adult who puts ketchup on a hot dog. (“Ketchup is not part of ‘all the way,’ ” he insists. “That is not hot dog etiquette.”)

Wilson eats a hot dog with heavy mustard, onions and hot relish every couple of days. “I love mustard,” he said. “Everybody should. It’s good for you.”

While the hot dogs are the main attraction at Wilson’s Weenie Wagon, the proprietor’s gift for gab also keeps folks coming back. He easily connects with his customers and happily talks about business, politics and the general state of things if required.

A Navy veteran who previously worked in sales, Wilson relishes being his own boss. He decides when he works – and when he takes a day or three off to fish.

If it’s rainy or cold, he takes the day off and spends time with his mom and family or stocks up on supplies. (He posts on Facebook daily to let customers know where he’s going to be set up or if he’s taking the day off.)

He realizes that means his customers will take their business elsewhere.

“If I’m not going to be there, don’t eat an inferior dog,” he said.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the December edition of “IFN Monthly.”