SOUP, SAUSAGE AND STAYING POWER

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Ten quick questions for Gary Sable, owner and sole employee of That Hot Dog Place, 30 Monmouth Street (next to the Dublin House). Gary’s 54, married, lives in Hazlet and has two grown daughters.

Did you have another career before you started this business?
Yeah. Before this, I had bar & restaurant in Perth Amboy called The Triangle Café with my brother, Scott, for 23 years. It was a family business. My father bought it in ’66, and then he started getting sick. I went in in’73, and my brother came in two years later.

The bar business is good when you’re young, but once you get past 35, you don’t want to be in that business anymore. The hours will kill you. Absolutely kill you.

I came down here in April of ’95, and started out doing hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwiches, all that stuff. Then I started to make soups that fall, and they really took off. So I threw out the charcoal grill, threw out the burgers and fries, threw out the grilled chicken. Just concentrated on soups, a limited sandwich menu and the hot dogs. I don’t look back on that one. Not at all.

That simplified your life?
Sure did. I started out seven days a week for the first years, for six years I did six days a week, and now I’m down to five. Doesn’t get any better than that.

How big is this space?
One-hundred-and-seventy square-feet, about the size of a jail cell. Not that I’ve ever been in one. I’ll tell you something, this time of year, the first couple of weeks when it starts getting cold, and that door is closed, I get a little claustrophobic until I get used to it.

You day starts when?
Depending on how much soup I’ve gotta make, 6, 6:30. Sometimes 5:30. Every morning, I chop all my own vegetables, make the soups. Everything is fresh. Sure, you can get pre-cut carrots and onions and potatoes and everything, but they treat them with chemicals. I don’t want that. I might use frozen or canned stuff if I can’t get it fresh year-round, but I like the farm markets. I’ve been using the same Italian sausage for 20 years. It’s the best Italian sausage you can get.

I also make a vegan soup every day. There are a lot of vegetarians in Red Bank.

So is your day a flat-out sprint?
(Raises eyebrows, nods vigorously.) But I like it that way. When you have a day that’s slow, it just drags. You’ve gotta remember, I’m here by myself. What’ll I do all day? Look at the clock? Listen to the radio?

Friday are my slowest days, especially in the summer. Everybody’s off playing golf. So whatever’s left, I put in into containers and we have it at home. My Friday soups are always something my family likes, just in case we get stuck with it.

This is a life you enjoy?
I do enjoy it. It’s like I told my son-in-law, ‘If you don’t like what you do for a living, find another job. You’ll be doing it a long time. You’d better like it.’ I love what I do.

You’ve got a picture of Lou Reed hanging on the wall. Why Lou Reed?
The Velvet Underground—that should say it all right there. You gotta love his staying power.

Do you get insight into human nature from this job that you might not get as a bartender?
Well, the first thing you can see is who’s patient and who’s not, because if there’s a line, you could be waiting 20 minutes out there. You can tell who’s having a good day and who’s not. You can actually just look and see if somebody’s going to give you a hard time because they’re mad about waiting. But most of them are sweethearts.

I assume some people make an association between you and a certain character from ‘Seinfeld.’
Yes, I do get that occasionally. I get a kick out if. But I am not like that guy. I’ve never thrown anybody out. Plus, he’s got a half a dozen people behind him cooking. I’ve got me.

Which is more important, good food or comfortable shoes?
(Pauses 14 seconds) Good food. Good food. If you don’t have comfortable shoes, you can take them off. But anybody who’s eating good food, they just get happy.

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