A dog whose day has come?

Local food cart owner cooks up franchising plan

May 12, 2011

By Adam White
Observer staff
Elaine and Al Viscido pose outside their “Zuppa Duppa” food cart on Industrial Ave. in Williston with one of their signature Italian-style hot dogs. The Viscidos are hoping to turn their successful breakfast and lunch service – which has fed hungry, local employees for more than two years – into a franchise. (Observer photos by Adam White)

If you’re an aspiring business owner frozen in your tracks by the current economy, Al Viscido wants you to think inside the bun.

From his bright yellow “Zuppa Duppa” food cart on Industrial Ave. in Williston, Viscido serves up signature hot dogs, breakfast sandwiches and other culinary creations to local employees. But the New York native and current Ferrisburg resident thinks his franks could serve a far greater purpose than just filling bellies; he sees them as possible high-energy fuel for entrepreneurs.

Food cart. (Observer photos by Adam White)

“What I really want to do is set up franchises, that people can lease,” said Viscido, during a break from the lunchtime rush on Tuesday. “A lot of people want to start their own business, but they don’t have the financial resources, or the wherewithal and knowledge, to do so. We’d help them set everything up.”

A former Manhattan CFO with a master’s degree in finance, Viscido sees his “rent-a-business” model as an easy way to help others get a piece of something successful. His food has been well received wherever he has parked his bright yellow cart; he began hawking Italian specialties to workers and tourists at the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory in Shelburne, and is now on his second truck, in Williston, after leasing the first.

He rattles off a long list of local businesses whose employees visit his cart on a regular basis, to get their hands on specialties like his Italian-style hot dog – a foot-long frank on a fresh baked roll with sautéed peppers and onions and deep-fried potatoes – that Viscido claims to be exclusive to New England.

“We stop by here at least once a day,” said Jim Salter, owner of nearby Vermont Home and Marine. “It’s hard to go through the parking lot and not stop here. It’s convenient, not just for me but for the truck drivers coming through. And the food is good. His breakfast sandwiches are fantastic.”

The secret to Zuppa Duppa’s cuisine is actually Viscido’s wife, Elaine. A former recipe columnist for The Charlotte Citizen, she originally stocked the cart’s menu with soups that replicated those made by her Sicilian grandmother – but soon found that on-the-go customers were looking for more traditional fare. The menu is now loaded with American fast food favorites like ’dogs and burgers, cheesesteak subs, chili, and soft-serve creemees for dessert.

“We morphed to give customers what they wanted,” said Elaine Viscido, a New Jersey native who worked previously as a graphic artist. “My husband says that I’m too slow when I cook back here, because I’m trying to create a Rembrandt. But I like the creative part of it.”

The couple has plans to incorporate some more adventurous specials into their menu, including an Atlantic salmon burger that they had some success with in the past. Al Viscido said that the business tries to implement as many local products as possible; the rolls for his Italian-style hot dogs come fresh from Baker’s Dozen in Essex Junction, while the franks themselves are from McKenzie of Vermont. He said that having all of his suppliers lined up is one factor that makes a potential franchise so appealing.

“It really is a turnkey operation,” he said. “Someone could come right in and be their own boss. Nowadays, when it’s so hard to find a job and so many people are struggling, this is a way that people could find some financial freedom.”