Steve Ewing is a familiar face in the local music scene. He first made a name for himself as the frontman for the popular rock/funk/ska/reggae/you name it act the Urge, a post he held from the '80s until the band's breakup in 2001. After spending some time in Los Angeles, Ewing moved back to St. Louis and re-established himself as a fixture on the music scene. He now plays around 200 shows a year, most of them in town, with either his full band or as an acoustic duo with guitarist Adam Hansbrough.
But despite already being ubiquitous in the music scene, Ewing is enhancing his local celebrity with his latest venture: Steve's Hometown Hot Dogs. Taking inspiration from a post-concert craving, Ewing started an outdoor hot dog stand, which is located at East Grand and 2nd Street. (They also do catering for large events.) Steve's Hometown Hot Dogs is in its second operating season; they stay open from March until the end of October each year. Fresh off an appearance at Taste of St. Louis, A to Z talked to Ewing about his business, cross-promoting his music while he sells hot dogs (and visa versa), and being recognized when he's working his stand.
Bob McMahon: How did you come up with the idea to start a hot dog stand? Steve Ewing: This was something that I knew I had to start because I plan all these shows and blah, blah, blah... at the end of the night, everybody's hungry, everybody's starving and needs something to eat. And so the initial idea was, "How can I have mobile vending at every show I do?" And that's nearly impossible because of all the different ordinances and different municipalities.
When I first started... I [decided I had] to have a daytime gig with this business until I can figure out some employees. The idea for that was to go around where people are working and they need food quick and fast and cheap, and I parked right out there by Procter & Gamble and it's been great. Business has been steady and I've got a lot of repeat customers.
Had you been doing anything during the day before you started this? I assume you play most of your shows at night. Well, I'm my own agent, for the most part, so I do a lot of the booking. I spent at least three or four hours a day just doing emails and phone calls with the venues. From the music side of things, I'm self-managed. That's kind of like my day job. When I took on this new business, I was like "Well, I'm going to have to hire an assistant," so I did just that. And so he's sort of taken over a lot of that part of the business.
Do you often get recognized like "Hey, it's that guy from The Urge"? Yeah, totally. Especially down by Procter & Gamble I'd say probably most of my customers know who I am. It helps with the business. We sell CDs out there, so it works out great.
Do you do anything else with your music to promote this business? Like at the end of the show do you say "Come down and buy a hot dog from me."? I'll tell you what, that's one of the reasons why I really wanted to do Taste of St. Louis this year, to really present it on a larger scale, like "Hey, not only am I doing music, you guys know that, but I also have another business." So I wanted to present it on a bigger scale. And it worked out great. I was able to promote the business by doing a big event like that. In the future, I will be doing more events, more bigger events and working on possibly running the business at some regular installations, places like Home Depot, things like that. So we'll have multiple satellites, we'll have multiple food carts going at one time.
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