Man's big-time hot dog fits his larger-than-life story

State Fair vendor eschewed high life to lift up Durham neighborhood

staff writerOctober 11, 2010 

  • When: Fairgrounds open at 3 p.m. Thursday and will close at midnight. From Friday through Oct. 24, the fairgrounds will be open from 8 a.m. to midnight.

    Cost: Tickets are $8 for adults, $3 for children ages 6 to 12. Children 5 and under and seniors 65 and over are admitted free. Savings are available until Thursday on advance tickets purchased at www.ncstatefair.org. Certain attractions, including Dorton Arena concerts and grandstand events, require an additional admission fee.

    Special days: Oct. 19 is senior citizens day. Seniors 65 and over can enjoy a free breakfast in Dorton Arena from 9 to 11 a.m. Oct. 20 is Military Appreciation Day. Active duty, reserve and National Guard service members with valid military ID will be admitted free along with four guests. Oct. 21 is Food Lion Hunger Relief day. Fairgoers receive free admission for bringing four cans of Food Lion brand food.

    More info: For other information on the fair, including bus and train schedules to the fair from Raleigh and surrounding communities, go to www.ncstatefair.org or call 821-7400.

— The 1-pound hot dog arrives on two buns, longer than a whole kielbasa, fatter than a prize cucumber, heavy enough to hold down a phone book in a hurricane and thick enough to smack a softball into center field.

You could knock down a horse with this frankfurter. You could drive a nail. What you can't do, unless you've got a stomach the size of a filing cabinet, is eat this billy club of meat in a single sitting. I know. I tried.

"Some people eat them," explained Joe Bushfan, the beast's creator, "and they look confused."

Starting Thursday, Bushfan will unveil this frank to the bravest eaters at the N.C. State Fair. If you can open your mouth wide enough to fit an apple, if you can wrestle the equivalent of four Quarter Pounders through your digestive system, if you think the best topping for a pound of meat is more meat, then you will meet God in the form of a wiener.

Bushfan explains his dog's appeal beyond size: "A good hot dog is something with no mystery meat, a good natural casing and some snap on it. That skin is supposed to pop!"

Nearing 50, and still as burly as a linebacker, Bushfan has traded the Ritz-Carlton life of a celebrity bodyguard for the greasy spatula existence of a hot dog man.

Already beloved in East Durham after less than a year in business, Bushfan brought some much-needed bustle to the corner of Angier Avenue and Driver Street, where a neighboring ministry puts Corinthians on its front door and bars on its windows.

Inside Joe's Diner, the countertop is marble, the hardwood floor is polished, and the word "Believe" hangs on the wall. Just last week, Bushfan started working with a Durham youth employment program, hoping to pass on some job skills along with high-calorie lunch.

The grittiness of the neighborhood - the windows across the way from Joe's Diner are boarded-up and smeared with black smoke - is familiar to Bushfan, who grew up in the Roxbury section of Boston.

Bushfan humbly calls himself a poor black man from Roxbury, but he had the luck of living next door to Bobby Brown and upstairs from Ricky Bell. With two-fifths of New Edition within shouting distance, he followed the young R&B group into comfort and fame, seeing the world with millionaire stars. Whitney Houston. Earth, Wind & Fire.

Paychecks from those gigs can buy a lot of hot dogs - not to mention lend your hot dog joint some flash. The walls at Joe's Diner are covered with huge pictures of Bushfan with Bobby Brown and Spike Lee. He whips out his cell phone and calls Ellis Hall, onetime singer for Tower of Power, who lends his friend an endorsement that is half-spoken, half-crooned.

"He is one of the fiiiinest spirits I knoooow!" Hall gushes. "Spirit personified. Takes care of plenty business. He is the boooomb ..."

The attraction that finally pulled Bushfan off the road was the Earth, Wind & Fire fan he met at a Raleigh show: his wife, Elaine, who also happens to be chief District Court judge in Durham.

No word on whether she can tackle a 1-pound dog, but even Bushfan shies away from the highlight of his menu, citing personal limitations.

A 1-pound hot dog isn't something to dabble with, or pick at. At $8, you shouldn't even order it unless you feel bigger than a tidal wave, more powerful than a steam shovel. Biting this hot dog is like biting into life, and as a man who's taken a giant chomp since his Roxbury days, Bushfan knows you need a king's appetite.

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.com or 829-4818

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