It started with a hot dog.
Or maybe further back with a love story.
Either way, the new hope some have for the corner of Angier and Driver in East Durham owes a lot to it.
Joseph Bushfan was working security for Earth, Wind and Fire at Walnut Creek when he noticed the woman taking pictures backstage.
“You look like you need protection,” said the 6-foot-4 Bushfan.
It got him a breakfast date and, two months later, a wife. He laughs when he tells the story.
“She said, ‘Come to North Carolina.’ I said, ‘Come to L.A.’ ... She said, ‘Well, I’m a judge.’ ”
So Bushfan married the judge, Elaine Bushfan now, and came in off the road and into the cold.
Looking for a new job – he’d pulled in three grand a week working security to the stars – he found himself looking at a possible project in the old Holloway Street school in Northeast Central Durham and later at the corner of Angier and South Driver.
He sat on the steps of the Angier Avenue Baptist Church and started watching the cars go by. The street’s a corridor between downtown and Research Triangle Park – 24 cars a minute, he says.
“And I said ‘hot dogs.’ Everybody likes hot dogs.”
He had worked with a tour manager who knew the best dogs in every city they’d visit. Bushfan says he bought a $1,500 cart and stood in the rain and snow selling all-beef Pearl frankfurters he drove 1,500 miles to load into his Suburban.
The hot dogs, No. 1 in a 2008 poll, were a hit, enough of one so that a few years later Bushfan, with support from mentor Dan Hill, a former City Council member, bought three lots for $138,000.
“You should have seen this place,” he says. “It was a wreck. My wife was like, ‘What are you doing?’ ”
With a $200,000 revitalization grant and $237,000 in historic tax credits, he opened Joe’s Diner, where Wednesday afternoon he got up from a counter stool to shake a customer’s hand.
“Hello, Mr. Ingram,” he greeted Bob Ingram, president of Durham Technical Community College.
It took Bushfan a while to learn about business, he says. His wall is filled with photos from his security days: Spike Lee, Maurice White, American Idol Kelly Clarkson and almost-Idol Clay Aiken.
It took time to learn about the neighborhood, too.
“These people weren’t ready for change,” he said. “They figured this place was gonna be in ruins forever.
“But you see the gang bangers (now), they turn their hats around, they pull their pants up. They come in with respect. It’s a loving community. They just needed someone to help them. ... All I did was treat people the way I wanted to be treated.”
Bushfan still pulls down the metal awning at night. But big windows invite customers in by day, and he plans to turn the former TROSA grocery space he owns next door into a commissary for his food trucks next.
“Sure enough,” he says. “Everybody likes hot dogs.”