Bergenfield, New Jersey, has legalized food trucks. But until last year, one man had been grandfathered in as the only mobile dining option for 40 years.

By Mike Pomranz
November 16, 2020
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Credit: Juanmonino/Getty Images

To say someone was “grandfathered” into something is usually just an expression. But in Bergenfield, New Jersey, a literal grandfather was the only person allowed to run a food truck—selling hot dogs in town for four decades. Last year, he retired—and now, for the first time in a long time, a new generation of food truck owners will be able to take his place.

According to NorthJersey.com, Bergenfield—located across the Hudson River northwest of Manhattan—has recently approved a new ordinance that will provide licenses for mobile food vendors to operate in the town for the first time ever. That, in and amongst itself, isn’t necessarily big news: Over the past decade-plus, food trucks have emerged as both unique dining opportunities for customers and low-overhead businesses for chefs, and so it’s no surprise that local governments would want to encourage these businesses—especially with how the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the restaurant industry. Borough Administrator Corey Gallo told the site that the new rules were passed after receiving inquiries from local residents.

But here’s the twist, though the ordinance is new for 2020, for the past 40 years, the 27,000 residents of Bergenfield did have one mobile dining option—a single hot dog vendor, Mark Butler, who had been selling franks and drinks since 1980. “There were no licenses available. His truck was grandfathered in and that was it,” Gallo was quoted as saying. “Other towns had licenses and we had no mechanism to allow a hot dog guy in town or a food truck.”

And yet, not only was Butler such a local legend that the city let him keep on running his Mark’s Hot Dogs truck, in 2019, when Butler announced his retirement, officials even sang his praises. “He's more than just a hot dog guy,” Norman Schmelz—then-mayor and longtime Butler customer—told NorthJersey.com. “For some people, he is a psychologist.”

Butler officially ended his reign as Bergenfield’s only food truck at the end of last year—reportedly saying he planned to spend more time with his family, including his young granddaughter. To say his exit left a hole in the community that could only be filled with a new generation of food trucks probably isn’t accurate, but at the very least Mark’s Hot Dogs was a trailblazer—officially licensed or not.