$5 Lunch deal in Downtown San Jose

By John West BillshotdogssanjoseIf you live or work in Downtown San Jose and are hungry for a great lunch deal, check out Bill’s beer steamed hot dogs at S. Market & Santa Clara St.  Monday ~ Friday from 11 AM to 2 PM (if the weather is nice) Bill’s $5 Dog Deal: Includes chips, soda and your choice of any big dog (all beef hot dog, Polish, spicy hot link or Italian sausage with a mild anise flavor) Try one of his dogs with “GOOP” Caramelized garlic, onion and bell peppers sautéed to a mild sweetness!  No garlic after taste. Catering: Let Bill cater you next event alfresco’ style (in your patio, loading dock or parking lot) Only $5 per person.  He is available for private events ~ call Bill at 408-202-5410 or email billshotdogs@gmail.com  www.billdogs.com Bill serves Stephens famous sausages & dogs. Made fresh in San Jose CA. More about Bill In these days of diminishing returns and downsized dreams, maybe it’s no surprise that Bill Carlson has opened a downtown eatery a touch smaller than the Bella Mia restaurant he and his wife ran as a San Jose hot spot for years. Instead of the 300-plus seats of his old place, his new business has none. Rather than the 100 rotating menu items of the past, today’s menu has four. No breakfast. No brunch. In fact, his new place has no roof, no walls. “I have no employees, no landlord, no problems,” says Carlson, standing behind his Bill’s Beer-Steamed Hot Dogs cart — a sidewalk stand serving enormous hot dogs, hot links, Polish and Italian sausage at Market and Santa Clara streets. But Carlson, 61, is not another victim of the recession, though the downturn does figure into his business strategy. Instead, he is the oldest of Silicon Valley stories — a successful entrepreneur who has moved on, reinventing himself to accommodate changes in his life and to cater to a hungry market. Carlson and his wife, Julie, who opened Bella Mia on First Street in 1993, sold the restaurant nearly five years ago. Their kids were high-school age. They wanted to spend time with them before they got away. And the grind of running a restaurant was beginning to wear them down. But the retirement thing worked only so long. “I was bored,” Carlson says. “And my wife wanted me to do something. “But what? Carlson liked to cook. He knew the city was interested in attracting street vendors to liven up downtown. He knew he wanted flexibility. He liked the idea of a restaurant where customers came for food, but didn’t necessarily stay. And he knew he wanted to work alone. Don’t get Carlson wrong. Ninety-nine percent of the customers and employees during the Bella Mia years were great. But the other 1 percent?  Hoo-boy. The thing is, customers actually aren’t always right. And employees? Some steal. Some sexually harass co-workers. There’s workers’ comp, absenteeism. One chef caused an uproar when he surreptitiously substituted pork for veal in the scaloppine and parmigiana. Carlson didn’t know about the switch, which outraged customers with religious and health-related dietary restrictions. Though the chef came clean and made it clear that Carlson had no role in the deception, Carlson is heartsick over the episode to this day. So the hot dog cart seemed the perfect answer — not to mention the right vehicle for the right food at the right recessionary time. “Low budget, no hassle, fast food,” Carlson says of his $4 sausages ($5 with soda and chips). The business end is important, but the thrill is in the cooking. The health code says dogs on street carts must be steamed. Most dogmeisters use water. Carlson adds Trader Joe’s dark ale for flavor. “Steam isn’t sexy,” he says. “If I actually put them in a beer bath, that sounds better.” Carlson offers his own “Goop Sauce,” along with the run-of-the-mill condiments. “Right now I’m experimenting with sautéed onions and garlic, with a little ketchup base.” It all works — the economics, the convenience, the dogs that snap when you bite them — for Heidi Hoffman, a marketing director who stopped by Carlson’s cart last week. But there is something more that Bill’s Beer-Steamed stand offers — a hint of that intangible urban vibe that downtown boosters are shooting for. “I love hot dog stands,” she says. “I used to work in Washington, D.C., and that’s where you ate.” Carlson takes his mission as street ambassador seriously. He jokes around with customers, pointing to a sticker on his cart: “This hot dog cart is outperforming the stock market,” which on most days is true, though Carlson says he isn’t making any money, either. “I’m happy if I make $100, and that’s rare.” But he’s been on the corner only since January. Carlson figures he’s establishing his brand for now and that things will pick up as the spring weather turns to summer weather. Until then, he figures, it’s enough just to know that he can still dish it out.