June 13, 2013

Mark Gatti relishes 30 years of (hot) dog days in Portland

A familiar Old Port figure, Gatti is a master of serving hot dogs from his landmark red wooden cart.

By KAREN ANTONACCI / Staff Writer

Mark Gatti’s first day of work in 1983 at his then-brand new Mark’s Hot Dogs stand in the Old Port did not go well.

click image to enlarge

Mark Gatti of Mark's Hot Dogs, right, serves a frank to Bob Fitzgerald of Westbrook on Monday. For three decades, Gatti has served hot dogs plain and fancy - even during snowy winter weather – in Portland's Old Port.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Mark Gatti of Mark's Hot Dogs serves an Old Porker in the Old Port on Monday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

HOT DOG NUMBERS

Over 30 years of operating his Mark’s Hot Dogs stand in the Old Port, owner Mark Gatti has a few estimates:

• 840,001 hot dogs sold

• 9,360 pounds ketchup used

• 7,500 pounds mustard

• 6,300 pounds relish

• 14,040 pounds sauerkraut

• Water used in the hot dog steamer: 54,600 gallons

• First day of work: June 13, 1983

• Average order: 1-2 hot dogs per person

• Notable celebrities served: Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics; Tony Montanaro, mime, director and teacher; members of the band KISS; Ted Nugent, rock musician

• Coldest winter: “All of them! They’ve all been cold.”

• Most popular toppings: mustard, relish, sauerkraut, bacon

Least popular menu item: Lobster rolls, which Gatti sold for about a month in 1984 or 1985
 

“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he said. “I didn’t get here until later, maybe like 11:30 (a.m.) and there was already a line of about four or five people. I didn’t get the hot dogs cooked until about 12, and then I was struggling to take apart the links.”

On top of that, Gatti, then 24, accidentally squeezed a mustard bottle too hard, spraying a well-dressed woman.

“Yeah, so it was hectic for those first few days, I had to work the kinks out,” Gatti said.

On Thursday, Gatti will mark his 30th anniversary of slinging hot dogs from his red wooden street cart on the edge of Tommy’s Park, at the corner of Middle and Exchange Streets in the Old Port. He sells dogs with various toppings, Italian sausages with peppers and onions, chips, sodas and Thai spring rolls in the summer.

On a recent afternoon, Gatti stood in his customary spot, chatting with customers, his hands blurry with motion inside the cart as he assembled an “Old Porker” hot dog.

“My son came up with the name, as kind of a play on Old Port, you know,” Gatti said of the $3 specialty dog featuring sour cream, bacon and sauteed onions. He and his wife created it after a dining table session in February testing different topping combinations.

Gatti came up with the idea for a hot dog cart after working in Colorado Springs, Colo., in public relations for an insurance company in the early 1980s. He said the job was stressful and the economy dipped, so he saved up $5,000 to move back home to Maine. He applied for a couple of sales jobs, trying to make ends meet and eventually decided to emulate the food carts he’d seen out west. He and his father built the little red cart that he still uses today.

After 30 years, he’s honed his technique. A typical day starts about 6 a.m., when Gatti starts gathering supplies for the stand. He pulls up to Tommy’s Park about 9 a.m. each day and takes an hour or so to unload the cart and get set up – a step that takes longer if it snowed the night before, because he has to shovel out his spot on the sidewalk. From 10:30 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m., Gatti is at his stand, doing what he’s been doing since 1983. He’s usually there Monday through Saturday, unless there’s more than three inches of snow, heavy rain or he’s catering an event like a wedding reception, he said.

His day ends about 6 p.m., when he loads the cart back on his truck and goes home to clean his utensils.

Gatti will sell anywhere from 150 hot dogs to 200 on a good day, he said. He declined to say how much he makes per day, but estimated he’s sold 840,001 hot dogs over 30 years – adding on the one he sold to a regular customer while he was calculating the number.

When he first started out, he sold a regular hot dog for 60 cents. Today, they go for $2.50.

But it isn’t just his hot dogs that keeps the regular customers returning.

“I’ve been coming here about 15 years, Mark’s a cool guy,” said Peter Smith, who works as a computer operations manager at Network Systems Incorporated on York Street. “Oh and the dogs are OK, too,” he said, jokingly.

“Oh, thanks Peter,” Gatti said, laughing as he prepared Smith’s usual request of two dogs.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Mark Gatti is ready to serve customers at his Mark's Hot Dogs stand Monday. He and his father built the red food cart from which Gatti has sold more than 840,000 hot dogs.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

  


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